09/04/2014 - Colombia has done much to strengthen the rules governing its telecommunication sector, but it must give its regulator more power to enforce them in order to increase competition, particularly in the highly concentrated mobile market, according to a new OECD report.
The OECD Telecommunication Review of Colombia – which provides an input for talks on Colombia’s accession to the OECD - notes that Colombia’s 2009 ICT law lowered barriers to new entrants and created instruments for curbing market power in fixed and mobile services. Yet these tools are not being put to full use because the Communications Regulation Commission (CRC) lacks independence and sanctioning powers.
The dominant mobile operator controls around 60% of the market, compared with an average of 42% in OECD countries. Some of Colombia’s fixed-line operators also have dominant positions at the local and regional level.
“Colombia has at its disposal the tools it needs to curb market dominance, but it has yet to leverage and use them in earnest,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “The CRC must be given real powers to spur competition so that households and businesses can benefit from accessible and high-quality phone and Internet services. This will drive growth and create jobs across the economy.”
Figure 1: Market share evolution, Mobile Network Operators in Colombia
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Source: OECD based on data from the CRC and the MINTIC
The review finds a key shortcoming in the CRC’s lack of independence from the government, which owns a 30% share in Colombia’s second-largest telecoms operator. The communications minister and the head of the Planning Department are two of the CRC’s five commissioners. The OECD recommends keeping competition regulation separate from sectoral policymaking to avoid any risk of political influence or conflicts of interest.
The report argues that the CRC can promote competition in the highly concentrated mobile market by further reducing termination rates and by continuing to prohibit “club effects”, whereby the largest network offers lower calling rates to other numbers in its network.
Mobile penetration in Colombia is level with the OECD average at 105%, but wireless broadband adoption remains low, as many Colombians still rely on 2G connections. Fixed telephony and broadband adoption are extremely low at 14% and 9% respectively for a middle-income Latin American country. Average fixed broadband penetration in OECD countries is 27%. Broadband speeds in Colombia are also far below OECD levels.
The review suggests that insufficient competition is a factor holding back fixed and wireless infrastructure. Encouraging the building of fixed networks, including fibre-based infrastructure, would broaden wireless access and bring the economic and social benefits of the Internet to more people.
The report makes a number of recommendations, including that Colombia:
- Make the CRC regulator and its five commissioners properly independent.
- Make the CRC responsible for enforcing regulations and give it powers to impose sanctions for non-compliance. Fines should be sufficiently high to act as a deterrent.
- Merge the CRC and the national television authority, ANTV, to ease the shift to greater convergence.
- Give the CRC the authority to conduct spectrum auctions, or to establish auction criteria, given their implications for competition.
- Promote competition in mobile telephony by preventing off-net/on-net price discrimination and reducing termination rates to close to zero for all operators except new entrants.
- Improve fixed-line competition by introducing bit-stream access and local loop unbundling.
- Do more to protect people from excessive international roaming charges, ensure number portability and set up better facilities for complaints.
- Remove barriers to building new telecoms infrastructure and promote the development of Internet Exchange Points.
For further information, or to set up interviews with the report’s authors, journalists should contact Catherine Bremer in the OECD’s Media Division.