ITU : Asia must liberalize telecoms, Singapore says

Asian countries should embrace full telecommunications liberalization as a platform for driving their economies, according to Lee Boon Yang, Singapore’s minister for information, communications and the arts.

Speaking Monday at the Telecom World 2003 conference and exhibition in Geneva, Lee said that a clear difference could be seen between countries, which had liberalized telecommunications, and those, which had not.

“Full liberalization needs to be encouraged,” he said, according to a transcript of his speech. “Other Asian countries that have liberalized, such as South Korea (and Singapore), have also witnessed tremendous developments in their telecommunications sectors. For the rest of the region, the approach is generally one of graduated liberalization and managed competition.”

Lee said that the spectre of national monopoly telecommunications carriers hitting hard times appeared to be hindering liberalization, a fear that has been exaggerated.

“The reversal of fortunes of many bold and dynamic telcos should not be seen as failures of market liberalization,” he said. “Competition has compelled incumbent telecommunication operators to become more efficient and to offer products and services that are more innovative and responsive to the needs of end users.”

In many cases, the former state-owned monopolies continued to make it hard for new entrants, according to Lee.

“In some cases, new entrants face high entry barriers as incumbents remain dominant and control essential backbone infrastructure, and interconnection problems abound,” he said. “For many countries, liberalization is still a work-in-progress.”

It is also clear that Singapore’s economy as a whole has benefited from liberalization, an effect that can be duplicated in other Asian countries, Lee said.

“We have no doubt that economically, a vibrant and competitive telecommunications sector contributes to the competitiveness of the nation as a whole,” he said. “Beyond enhancing Singapore’s position as a hub for telecommunications activity, competitive pricing and innovative services will attract investments in other sectors and anchor more multinational companies in Singapore.

“Liberalizing the telecommunication sector, coupled with a determined effort to harness new technology, has helped us to achieve better economic performance than would be possible under the old model of depending on a protected dominant player.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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