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Spectrum Refarming in Sri Lanka: Lessons for Policy Makers and Regulators

By Rekha Jain


The commercial potential of wireless applications has brought spectrum policies to the forefront of regulatory arena. In the context of rapidly increasing demands on spectrum, regulators have to adopt refarming so as to be able to provide spectrum for new services. A variety of models have been chosen by different countries. This paper documents the approach and process adopted by Telecom Regulatory Commission, Sri Lanka (TRCSL) for refarming of spectrum and draws lessons for policy makers and regulators. Sri Lanka was among the early countries in Asia not only to introduce telecom reforms, but also commercial wireless services (mobile and WLL). It may appear that TRCSL’s quick introduction of wireless services gave a head start to Sri Lanka, but the earlier ad-hoc processes led to a situation where spectrum refarming had to be done very quickly subsequently, imposing additional costs on operators and regulators. While realignment was triggered by the need for mobile operators to adopt standard technology, this opportunity could have been strategically used by TRCSL to review spectrum allocations across all the bands, thus allowing faster deployment of digital services. The open consultation process adopted by TRCSL had reduced the risk of “regulatory capture” and it was able to leverage the refarming initiative to bring equity in quantum of spectrum allocated between incumbent and new operators. The study highlights that for rapid proliferation of wireless technologies, a forward looking approach is required not only for managing spectrum but also removal of restrictions on handsets, whose price is a critical aspect for penetration in a developing country context.

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