[ Text Version | WordPerfect Version ]

"African Telecommunications: A Partnership for Progress"

Keynote Address
William E. Kennard, Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
The Seventh All-Africa Telecommunications,
Information Technology, Trade & Investment Conference
Arlington, Virginia

September 9, 1998

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Good morning Dr. Akwule, Excellencies, distinguished visitors, colleagues and friends. It's an honor for me to welcome you to the United States to take part in this important conference. I'm delighted to see that so many distinguished leaders from both the public and private sectors have come together to discuss ways to advance the African Information Infrastructure (AII). I congratulate Dr. Akwule and AFCOM International for once again organizing this important event. Dr. Akwule, you never disappoint this crowd. And I have looked forward to being here for a long time.

Today I would like to talk to you about two things: first, the importance of the AII, from my perspective, here in the United States; and second, the steps that we at the FCC are taking to make AII a reality.

As you know, four years ago in Buenos Aires, United States Vice President Al Gore called upon all the nations of the world to create a Global Information Infrastructure, the GII. It includes four fundamental principles: (i) encouraging private investment; (ii) promoting competition; (iii) creating a flexible regulatory framework to keep pace with change and (iv) providing open access to the network. The goal of these principles is to create the right environment to achieve universal access and rapid build out of networks. In the four years since Buenos Aires, we have made significant progress toward realizing this goal, but we still have much work to do, here and around the world. And we have much work to do in Africa.

I am here today as the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission -- as the first African-American Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission -- to pledge to work together with you to advance the AII. I am here to pledge to work in partnership with you. A partnership to advance the AII.

I want to work as a partner with you for the simple reason that we cannot have a Global Information Infrastructure without an African Information Infrastructure. And there can be no GII without an AII.

Why? Because one in every eight people on our planet lives in Africa. So, it's clear that Africa must be a full partner in the GII so that its resources become a part of the seamless global network that is the vision of the GII.

Nelson Mandela recognized this when he spoke to the ITU earlier this year. He said, "Africa remains a huge untapped market for telecommunications and information technologies. Like other emerging markets, it presents huge opportunities for investors." And he spoke of his vision of Africa's role in the information society of the 21st century, and how these opportunities would benefit Africans. Mandela sees a time when partnerships between the public and private sectors will help millions of children in Africa become engineers, doctors, scientists and teachers, and bring forth an African renaissance.

And this vision, this vision laid out by President Mandela this year, is beginning to take shape. Throughout Africa, tangible steps are being taken by African leadership -- including people in this room -- to ensure that the AII moves forward. Many nations have created, or are in the process of creating, national policies on telecommunications and information. Many have adopted new and transparent telecommunications laws and regulations. Most permit competition in cellular and value added services. Many of you have liberalized, privatized, and created independent regulatory bodies, and a growing number permit competition in basic telecommunications services.

Last evening, I attended the opening reception for this conference, and had the opportunity to talk to many of the conference participants -- representatives from Tanzania and Namibia and Ghana and others. And I heard about many encouraging developments in Africa. I heard about the creation of new independent regulatory bodies, and the efforts to open markets to competition. These efforts are the seeds that will bear fruit in creating universal access opportunities, and, ultimately, building the AII.

As never before, African leaders are at the forefront of telecom policy development for the continent. The recent Ministers' document, entitled "The African Connection," demonstrates commitment from the highest ranks of Africa's telecommunication policymakers to form a collective vision and identify common goals and strategies.

Regulators, too, have formed regional associations, like the Telecom Regulators' Association for Southern Africa, to share knowledge and experience, and to build telecommunications in Africa. Already, model legislation adopted by this organization is guiding telecom reform in the southern region. Real progress is being made because decisionmakers are pooling their collective strengths to work together toward common goals. These partnerships are, and will continue to be, pivotal in the process of building the AII.

Progress is being made.

In the last five years, the number of Internet hosts in Africa has grown from 27 to 130,000. More than a dozen African countries have made binding commitments on telecommunications in the World Trade Organization. This will help these countries to access the world's capital markets.

As we continue these efforts, we must not forget that the prime goal must be to attain universal access -- to bring the benefits of telecommunications in order to improve the lives of the people. This objective must drive our efforts as policymakers.

I believe that there are three overriding principles that should guide our decisionmaking.

First, decisionmaking must serve the interests of the people -- people need access to telecommunications technology for communication, for health care, for public safety, for education. These needs must come first.

Second, we must make decisions that create and maintain stable legal and commercial environments. A clear, national telecommunications and information policy, coupled with a regulatory regime that is simple, transparent, predictable, and fair, sets the stage for success. It must permit all interested parties to participate in an equal and fair manner. And the centerpiece should be a strong, independent regulator. I often talk to industry leaders about obstacles to investment. Their number one complaint is lack of regulatory stability. We must renew our commitment to structuring our legal and commercial environments so that universal access will be achieved and not obstructed.

Third, we must make decisions that encourage rapid and efficient build-out of the networks of the future. Networks that are interoperable both regionally and globally are particularly important for Africa. For years we have noted the inefficient traffic patterns on the continent. Why should a call from Lagos to Abidjan have to go through Europe? Policymakers in Africa must explore the possibilities of regional connectivity and interoperable networks. Speak to your neighbors; include the private sector -- extend the AII across nearby borders where this is possible.

A word of caution, however. As many African nations recognize, it is impractical and unnecessary for government to be the sole provider of telecom services or the principal network planner. The best role government can serve in this new telecommunications environment, I would suggest, is to pave the way for new entrants to build and expand these networks. In this regard, as policymakers, we must be bold and not be overly concerned with whether our decisions to expand competitive opportunities might be challenged by the incumbents. Just last week, a federal circuit court of appeals, the most influential court after our Supreme Court, upheld, over well-financed opposition, our initiatives to create more competitive opportunities in the U.S. local telecom market. You must be prepared to fight for the opportunity for new entrants to compete.

Now, here's how we can work together to advance these goals.

The FCC is proud to be at the forefront of regulator-to-regulator dialogue on promoting competition and connectivity. Through our Visitors' Program, we have hosted in the last few years regulators from well over a hundred countries. Since January 1998, we have hosted forums for independent regulators from a dozen African countries. We've talked about ways to create a competitive environment, spectrum management, regulatory reform, and universal service.

This year, the FCC, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, held three workshops for telecom regulators from around the world. Nearly 40 countries participated in total -- seven were from Africa.

Through this initiative, representatives of seven of Africa's 12 new regulatory bodies were briefed on the major telecommunications issues facing regulators today. These new regulators, from Kenya, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, and South Africa, had the opportunity to discuss these issues and listen to the experiences of other nations. They worked through specific problems with regulators from other regions. And perhaps most importantly, they developed new relationships with other regulators from the continent and elsewhere in the world that they can draw on in the future.

At the ITU, the FCC played a major role in preparing the United States' formal submissions describing policy recommendations for Africa, and advising the ITU's Development Bureau on ways to help developing countries make the transition to a competitive environment. We also played an important role in identifying and addressing important topics the ITU Development Bureau will study and make recommendations on over the next four years: independent regulators, universal service, and interconnection. Along with the U.S. State Department, on behalf of the United States, we initiated the effort to study ways to promote Internet infrastructure in developing countries.

The Commission is also privileged to assist United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with its Internet Initiative for Africa. This project, established and directed by Mr. Richard Kerby of UNDP and led by our Dr. Akwule, is expanding the AII by increasing Internet connectivity in a number of African nations. UNDP's commitment to encourage conditions of fair competition and universal access to the Internet, and to promote a leadership role for the private sector, make it a natural partner for the FCC. You will hear more about this important initiative later this week on the panel discussing policy and business. I want to forge an even closer working relationship between the FCC and the UNDP.

The FCC has also taken a number of steps to help African nations as they develop the AII. At the request of the World Bank, we have provided advice on legislative changes and telecommunications policy to Kenya and Uganda.

At the request of the United States Agency for International Development, we participated in the first conference dedicated to bringing regulators together for the southern region in Africa, providing advice on financing mechanisms and performance monitoring.

And as Chairman, I want the FCC to do more. So I am expanding the team of Rod Porter, Ari Fitzgerald and Roxanne McElvane to include Adonis Hoffman.

Some of you may remember Adonis from his days as Staff Director and Counsel to the Subcommittee on Africa in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is an expert on Africa and I feel very honored that he is joining my team at the FCC. And we will continue to work closely with Dr. Akwule, who I have come to rely on for his wisdom and good advice -- as I know many of you have as well.

We at the FCC are committed to working in partnership with you. And beyond the FCC, I know that my other colleagues in the U.S. government are committed to working with you to advance the AII. I know this because I work closely with them -- Larry Irving, at the U.S. Department of Commerce and Vonya McCann at the U.S. State Department. We were all at the ITU Development Conference together with the head of the U.S. Delegation in Malta, Ralph Everett. Ralph will also head the U.S. Delegation to the Plenipotentiary meeting here in the United States in October.

These are the top officials in the United States government with responsibility for telecommunications. We were all appointed by President Clinton, and, we all happen to be African-American. And I know I speak for all of us in saying that we are all committed to working with you to advance the AII. Indeed, before his trip to Africa last March, President Clinton said that "the United States stands ready to be a partner in Africa's prosperity."

I do believe that we have a unique opportunity to advance the AII.

So let us seize this opportunity. Let us support each other. Let us share information with one another -- our successes and failures. Let us today renew our commitment to the vision of Buenos Aires. And let us remind the world that there cannot be a true Global

Information Infrastructure without an African Information Infrastructure. We cannot have one without the other because one is a part of the other. So while this is for the good of Africa, it is also for the good of the world.

Thank you again for having me here today.