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Telecommunications Reform in Developing Countries

Jun 2000
Working Paper
99-031
By  Roger Noll
Since World War II, developing nations have embarked on two massive changes in telecommunications policy. The first was the wave of nationalization of private companies that took place mostly in the 1950s and 1960s, and the second is the now ongoing process of re-privatization and, to a lesser degree, the introduction of competition. The purpose of this essay is to set forth the problems of contemporary neoliberal policy reform within the historical, economic and political context of these countries to assess the success of reform to date and to suggest future directions for research that might improve the performance of the sector. The existing literature well documents the decline in performance during the nationalization era and the improvements that reform usually brings; however, relatively little is known about the relationship between the details of reform and subsequent performance, or about the institutional factors that contribute to the stability of reform.

The main conclusions are: (1) the recent literature on policy reform probably understates the importance of constructing regulatory governance institutions that are not captured by the newly reformed incumbent monopolist; (2) reform in some countries has focused too much on maximizing the revenues from the sale of state-owned enterprises rather than the long-run economic benefits of reform to consumers and society at large; and (3) too little attention has been given to creating an institutional environment, regulatory and legal, that supports a private and, where possible, competitive industry. The paper also argues that small developing countries probably should not allocate scarce educated technical civil servants to regulation, but should either adopt relatively simple "benchmark" systems or, better still, form multinational agencies for regulating prices and service standards.