Macau’s new telecommunications law and GBA integration

AI-generated illustrative scene capturing the essence of integrating GBA with a focus on Macau’s telecom and tech

Analysis by Rui Marcelo*

The realization of an integrated plan for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, in line with the Central Government’s guidelines and commitment to establish a high-level development model for this region, requires Macau to accelerate the planning and implementation of an innovative plan for the future of its ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) infrastructure and knowledge, with particular emphasis on Innovation, Technology and Interconnectivity, increasing its connectivity capacity, locally and internationally, increasing its competitive advantage, reducing duplication of resources and introducing new opportunities for the growth of its economy, especially considering its positioning as a world center for tourism and entertainment, with more than 30 million visitors annually, before the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the past three years, and through consultation with various entities, including the regulator, consumers and organizations in the sector, I’ve noted that some common expectations and opportunities have been outlined for Macau’s evolution within the scope of regional integration of systems and information, and to support the territory in regaining its status as an advanced city in terms of technology and communications, given its privileged status and geographical constraints, namely the establishment of Macau as a cluster of smart cities, serving as a test bed for new technologies, ICT standardization, pervasive computing and the reduction of telecommunications service fees.

As stated by the Macau Post and Telecommunications Bureau (CTT) of the Macau Special Administrative Region Government, the entity responsible for regulating the territory’s telecommunications sector, the process of revising Macau’s telecommunications law is “fundamental for defining a sustainable development path for Macau’s telecommunications sector, including the treatment of the Concession’s assets and the Telecommunications Law, having announced in 2019/2020 that it would have improved the articles of the Telecommunications Networks and Services Convergence Regime”, which would be called the “Telecommunications Law”, whose bill would be submitted to the legislative process, anticipating that it could come into force in 2020.

However, this process has suffered some delays, with the Macau government opting, at the end of 2021, to award the consultancy services to an independent entity, anticipating that the result of this study would serve as a reference for the drafting of future telecommunications policies, and would be known in the first half of 2023, whilst it would move forward with the introduction of 5G services, through independent licensing.

Having dedicated a large part of my professional career of more than 35 years in the areas of business management and communications, and to promoting technological and scientific development, I believe that in order to achieve a sustainable development strategy for Macau, Information and Communication Technologies play an important role in the modernization of local industry. Hence, it is therefore essential that the government’s strategy for the future of the telecommunications market in Macau, and for its integration into the Greater Bay Area, be made public as soon as possible, and that an early deadline be announced for finalizing the legislative process for updating the proposed Telecommunications Framework Law.

In this context, allow me to make the following considerations:

Although Macau has modern telecommunications infrastructure suitable for the provision of sophisticated communications services, the delay in introducing new legislation has prevented the development of a process of technological convergence in the territory and the transformation of Macau into a “smart city”.

The adoption of new legislation for the telecommunications sector will allow investment in infrastructure to be strengthened, ensuring a fast and stable connection throughout Macau; it will facilitate the updating of existing regulations to reflect technological changes and the current needs of the sector, including the regulation of new services and technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G technology; stimulate competition between telecommunications operators, and encourage the entry of new service operators, enabling an improvement in services and more competitive prices for consumers; and encourage technological innovation, which through specific support, as well as the implementation of policies that facilitate the development and adoption of new technologies, will facilitate the establishment of startups and technology companies.

Business interconnectivity, innovation and competitive advantage in the market depend on faster networks, wireless or otherwise, provided via optical cables, on land or underwater. The importance of fixed networks, which act as the foundation of the infrastructure, cannot be underestimated, as the demand for high-quality connectivity continues to grow, fueled by significant jumps in Internet traffic, as we have witnessed particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, with fixed broadband networks increasingly taking the strain of the growing demand for wireless networks.

On the other hand, high-capacity fixed networks and 5G are seen as the connectivity underpinning innovative areas such as the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence. Therefore, planning and regulatory policies to promote access to affordable high-speed broadband networks are key to Macau’s digital transformation.

In the process of adopting the new Law, the provision of quality services to consumers should be guaranteed, through the implementation of regulations and quality standards, as well as effective monitoring and enforcement; the promotion of education and awareness on the proper and safe use of telecommunications, to help improve the user experience, and avoid problems such as misuse of the internet and cyberbullying; and ensuring the appropriate approach to cyber security issues, establishing requirements and guidelines to protect telecommunications networks from threats and attacks.

It is also essential to guarantee the protection of consumer rights by implementing privacy and data protection policies, as well as providing complaint and dispute resolution channels.

The government announced that the operating license allocations granted to operators, including mobile and fixed service networks, would be integrated into a unified and technologically neutral convergence license, including the 5G license. This would allow for the effective promotion of the convergence of telecommunications networks and services in Macau, and greater flexibility and efficiency in the provision of telecommunications services, already available in other countries and surrounding regions.

In summary, the modernization of the telecommunications sector in Macau is a priority in order to promote innovation, competitiveness and economic development. In this sense, the urgent but balanced introduction of legislation that addresses the various issues related to regulation, security, competition and the protection of end users, including the implementation of 5G technology, is important.

In terms of regulation, it is necessary to establish a clear and up-to-date regulatory framework that promotes fair competition and a level playing field for all telecommunications operators. This includes defining transparent rules for allocating licenses, managing the frequency spectrum and promoting interoperability between the different services and networks.

As far as security is concerned, it is essential to guarantee the protection of telecommunications systems against cyber threats and other forms of attack. This involves the implementation of robust security measures, collaboration between operators and competent authorities, and the adoption of international security standards.

In the area of competition, it is important to promote healthy competition and avoid anti-competitive practices that could harm innovation and consumer choice. This includes monitoring telecommunications markets, applying fair competition rules and promoting the entry of new operators into the market.

As for the protection of end users, it is necessary to ensure that consumers have access to quality services, transparent prices and clear information about their rights. This involves the implementation of consumer protection measures, the promotion of transparency in commercial offers and the efficient resolution of disputes between users and operators.

With regard to the implementation of 5G technology, it is necessary to create an environment conducive to the development and adoption of this technology. This includes allocating adequate spectrum, promoting investment in infrastructure, collaboration between the different players and making users aware of the benefits and opportunities offered by 5G.

*Vice President, General Assembly – Macau Communications Development Association

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