|Europe I 2012
|Ensuring mobile growth with the right policy
|Minister of Housing and Communications
|Ministry of Housing and Communications in Finland
Krista Kiuru is the Minister of Housing and Communications in Finland. She has been a Member of Parliament since 2007.
Krista Kiuru is Vice Chair of the Finnish UN Association and Chair of the Consumers’ Association of Finland.
Regulation is necessary for markets to be both competitive and fair; this is particularly true in the mobile sector where spectrum policy plays a critical role. But as well as securing and allocating spectrum in the most efficient and fair way possible, policymakers also need to promote and support the openness of data and to ease the secure use of personal information. A technology neutral and open approach to policymaking needs to be encouraged.
From 2009 to 2010, the amount of data transmitted on Finnish mobile networks grew by 110 per cent. This simple fact is highly indicative of the changes happening in the mobile sector – a taste of the economies of the future. There is a trend towards mobility everywhere, from consumers to business and the public sector – this much is obvious. Mobile communications have been hailed as the new paradigm for at least a decade now, and as always seems to be the case, the future is getting the jump on us. It is suddenly here without us realising it – mobility, simply, is.
The Finnish mobile communications market is quite special in its structure of having three nationwide players, which has resulted in the lowest mobile telephony prices and the most mobile broadband connections in Europe. The Ministry of Transport and Communications has an established history of maintaining good dialogue with telecommunications operators, and other players relevant to the market. We see the mobile sector as something Finland can be competitive with, and so it is in our common interest to see to its wellbeing. The task of the regulator is not to interfere with content or pricing, but to ensure that the consumer can be offered the best possible service with extensive availability in a technology-neutral market. From the perspective of a lawmaker, mobility poses problems that might not be entirely explicit to consumers. After all, as we have seen in different sectors of the economy, regulation is necessary for markets to be both competitive and fair. This is a critical aspect of the mobile sector, perhaps more so than in other sectors, where governments do not have the same control of the basic resource that is required – in this case, the frequency spectrum. Our job as the relevant authority is to secure and allocate the radio frequency spectrum for the market in the most efficient and fair way possible, while encouraging competition.
One of the latest developments in international spectrum policy is the liberation of the 790—862 MHz band for mobile communications by the year 2015. Finland has a head-start on the process, as a bilateral agreement with the Russian Federation over the usage of the 800-band in our countries’ vast border areas was made in August 2011. Due to this agreement, Finland will be able to offer the 800-band up for bidding much earlier than initially scheduled, possibly as early as 2013. The 800-band, which was freed for use by the digitalisation of television broadcasting, will provide the platform for the next generation of mobile broadband. As a large and sparsely populated country, Finland wants to ensure the availability of other frequencies reserved for mobile broadband in the future.
Although important for the growth of mobile communications, thankfully there is much more to policy than assigning frequencies. Legislation, in itself, can be a hindrance to a market sector with rapidly changing technology such as mobile communications. In the worst scenarios, legislation effectively nullifies competitiveness, and inhibits growth. This is why Finland has taken a very broad and far-reaching view of the communication sector. It is vital for lawmakers to be aware of all possible future technological advancements and how they might be reflected in legislation. Definitions need to be flexible and take into account a number of variations. This makes the job of Minister in this sector very interesting, as one is constantly introduced to new innovations and research.
Supporting the openness of data
The Finnish Government and municipalities have started to unlock their vaults of data for free, open use. This provides a massive opportunity for software developers, especially for those of mobile applications. Apps that integrate databases with innovative software design are driving forces in the smartphone market, but they often rely on public and/or open data for full functionality. The more open databases we have the more innovation we will generate.
The Government has adopted a resolution to open public sector data reserves for non-commercial and commercial use as a strategic path towards fostering digitalisation. In practice, the Ministry of Transport and Communications has been actively involved in the Apps4Finland-competition, now in its third year. This is intended to inspire developers and designers to utilise open data to create new apps and visualisations. Previous winning entries have covered everything from how to find your favourite literature in stores and libraries to real-time public transportation schedules and mapping. It could only be a positive development if the new Nokias of the world were to be founded on open platforms. The mobility of data both public and personal has been at the core of innovation, and we will surely see this trend develop in the future. As policymakers, we wish only to promote and support the openness of data and to ease the secure use of personal information, which is a key resource in the mobile era. Many applications which it would be technically possible to implement today and would make life much easier for almost everyone are hindered by the difficulty of digital identification.
The Finnish Government has tried, through legislation, to create a platform for such ventures as early as 2009 in the form of the Act on Strong Electronic Identification and Electronic Signatures. Unfortunately,
in this case, the force of bureaucracy and the multitude of different institutions involved in the handling of personal data, lag behind the development of real-world applications. For example, the proliferation of Near Field Communication (NFC) applications could be much greater in Finland if there were better economic cooperation models and the operating environment was as open as it could be. Europe-wide support of common, open standards is very important for personal technologies such as NFC to become universal. In order for mobile communications to reach their full potential, we, as individuals, need to be able to both access and utilise our personal data in various instances easily and securely. This matter is increasingly important considering the expansion of social networking into other areas of life and the amount of private information people share. Personal information should always be one’s own and readily available.
The media landscape
Smartphones and tablet computers are new devices that push the pace of a media sector-wide transformation from static and physical to mobile and digital. Although newspapers will be around in paper form for some time to come, the change is inevitable and relentless. New income models are necessary, and they will certainly be figured out – but the transitional period will be rough for some. Television will also undergo a transformation, perhaps at a slower pace than print media but it will happen nevertheless. From a policy standpoint, these shifts need to be controlled and structured. Senior citizens, people with low income and people with disabilities cannot be left out from the rapidly changing media landscape. Our population structure simply cannot handle a media system that forces a certain technology over other, older ones. Again, a policy of technology neutrality and openness helps here, as consumers can then be presented with a variety of choices.
The future ubiquity of mobile technology, the convergence of new innovations such as cognitive radio, cloud computing and the omnipresence of social media will provide many challenges for policymaking. They will also lead to new ways of collaboration and will have profound effects on the very ways in which our societies function. How we deal with these changes is up to us, but it is certain that we will fare better in the new mobile landscape if we view it with an open mind.