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3rd ASEAN Telecommunication Regulators' Council (ATRC) Meeting

Mr Mah Bow Tan, Minister for Communications Speech - 3rd ASEAN Telecommunication Regulators' Council (ATRC) Meeting

Mr Mah Bow Tan, Minister for Communications
Speech - 3rd ASEAN Telecommunication Regulators' Council (ATRC) Meeting
Singapore, 6 August 1997

Good Morning,
Distinguished Directors-General of ASEAN countries;
Delegates and guests,

It is my pleasure to be here today to inaugurate the Third ASEAN Telecommunication Regulators' Council (ATRC) Meeting and to welcome our guests to Singapore. In particular, I am happy to welcome Myanmar and Laos, here for the first time as part of the ASEAN family.

Telecommunication Sector Growth in ASEAN

The ASEAN info-communication sector is undergoing dramatic change at this time. At the recent Asia Telecom 97 Exhibition and Forum, we heard many references to strong growth in the telecommunication sector in the booming Asia Pacific region. Between 1990 and 1995, teledensity in the region has grown by 9%, twice as fast as any other region in the world. Developing countries in this region have seen annual increases in penetration rates of around 27% since 1993. For example, Vietnam's teledensity has grown from 0.22% to 1.58% from 1992 to 1996, a seven-fold increase.

The experience of the ASEAN sub-region mirrors the exciting growth we are witnessing in the larger Asian region. Take, for example, mobile cellular services, one of the fastest growing markets in the region. A list of top Asia Pacific cellular operators published recently by the ITU shows that ASEAN cellular operators occupy 11 of the top 25 positions. According to ITU figures for 1996, the combined ASEAN telecom market was valued at about US$12 billion.

The International Telecommunication Landscape

This amazing growth is in turn, set against a backdrop of an international telecommunication environment which is in the process of evolution and reform.

Telecommunication trade liberalisation packages that have been, or are presently being, negotiated within WTO, APEC and ASEAN will result in fundamental changes to our individual markets as we each implement and learn to manage a competitive, multi-operator environment. Several of the countries present this morning have participated actively in negotiating the successful conclusion of the WTO Framework Agreement on Basic Telecommunication Services earlier this year. In fact, the quality of ASEAN countries' offers were a key factor that enabled the majors to agree to the deal.

Singapore supported the efforts of the Group on Basic Telecommunications and made a significant commitment to open its market to competition by the year 2000 for basic services. Other ASEAN countries made similarly significant commitments. We believe that the Agreement will bring great benefits to ASEAN in terms of increased foreign investment, greater transfer of technology, enhanced operator efficiency, a wider and more up-to-date range of services, better quality of service and lower prices. This in turn will surely benefit our economies as a whole.

Another important development has been the advent of the Information Age, with corresponding efforts by countries to construct what has now become termed the Global Information Infrastructure or GII. Regional efforts have developed in parallel. APEC, ASEAN and the APT have all discussed how best to facilitate the construction of an Asia Pacific Information Infrastructure.

There is much effort in developing national information superhighways by ASEAN members. Minister Joop Ave announced during Asia Telecom 97 that Indonesia will embark on the Nusantara 21 project, which will ultimately link the entire archipelago with a broadband backbone for multimedia services. In Malaysia, a broadband network will be constructed in the Multimedia Super Corridor. The Thai government has developed an Information Superhighway Testbed (ISH) to promote the application of broadband services. In the Philippines, the Subic Cybercity will link all the government agencies, business organizations, educational institutions, and households inside the Subic Bay Free Port area via a broadband network. In Singapore, Singapore ONE, our nationwide broadband multimedia network was launched at Asia Telecom in June.

These ambitious plans illustrate that ASEAN governments realise that to prosper in the Information Era, the use of and access to information will be of vital importance. Hence, the need to build high-speed, high-capacity networks that are able to seamlessly handle a large volume of voice, data, image and video. These networks will form the bedrock of doing business and living in the 21st century and will revolutionise how we in ASEAN communicate with one another and with the rest of the world. They will enhance our connectivity, our competitiveness and the quality of our lives.

In this Information Era, ASEAN governments also realise that our individual information infrastructure plans must be seen in a larger context of regional interconnectivity and interoperability. To make this a reality, you as regulators must work together to remove regulatory or technical barriers that could inhibit this growth and actively facilitate the harmonisation of standards and the interfacing of these national information infrastructures.

Yet, this must be achieved in a way that is mindful of differing levels of development within ASEAN. As technological advances are made, these can be creatively used to help developing countries leapfrog to newer networks and services. Experience can be shared and efforts by individual countries compared and where appropriate, harmonised.

At first glance, ASEAN regional connectivity may appear a daunting task but we should view the effort as a sum total of smaller bilateral or trilateral efforts to link up with one another. After all, this approach has become established ASEAN practice in other sectors, such as in the case of ASEAN growth triangles or polygons.

Regulatory Challenges

The changes sweeping the telecommunication industry pose many challenges to you, the regulators. Perhaps the biggest challenge is how to craft regulatory frameworks that are flexible enough to adapt to a dynamic environment, yet stable and certain enough to achieve larger economic goals and enhance confidence levels of investors and operators. This can sometimes be a fine line to walk.

Opening our markets to competition and implementing the commitments we have made at the WTO will be another challenge. This will involve moving away from monopoly situations, ensuring fair interconnection terms, equitable spectrum allocations and transparent regulatory policies.

The information era will pose new regulatory questions. Whilst we work to enhance interconnectivity with one another and with the rest of the world, we will have to grapple with questions of an unstoppable flow of information and a new level of transactions that require their very own legal and regulatory framework. Issues such as privacy, content, network security, access and universal service will become important.

Ladies and gentlemen, ASEAN is wisely investing in the future to provide better and more innovative services to our customers who are increasingly more affluent, more demanding and more mobile.

The ATRC discussions over the next few days will have a significant impact on the telecommunication landscape of our region. We are in a position to shape our regulatory policies and priorities in a manner that is progressive and that facilitates and harnesses the developments in the global arena for our own benefit. I urge you as regulators to continue the excellent work the ATRC has begun and to further build on and intensify these efforts at this meeting.

On that note, it is now my honour and pleasure to declare the third Meeting of the ASEAN Telecommunication Regulators' Council open.

I wish you every success in your Meeting and I wish you too a pleasant and fruitful stay in Singapore. Thank you.