Eamon Holley of DLA Piper briefly reviews some key developments in four Gulf telecoms markets during 2014 and looks to what might lie ahead in 2015.
Bahrain’s TRA has a reputation for being a dynamic and forward looking regulator. It upheld this reputation in 2014 by publishing a series of very interesting reports considering regulation of the new telecoms world. Over The Top (“OTT”) services, like Skype, Whatsapp, Netflix, cannot be regulated in the same way as traditional telco services, but they appear to be here to stay. Recurring regulatory issues include consumer protection, licensing and Government revenue raising, competition and national security. The TRA considered how some of these issues may be addressed in the region.
Bahrain continued to focus on further strengthening its current framework through the publication of new fining guidelines, inter-operator dispute resolution guidelines, the continued reviews of competition in certain markets which resulted in the lifting of some regulations from Batelco in some broadband markets, and consultations on a bulk messaging regulations and in-building access.
It is expected that at some point in 2015 Bahrain will announce the launch of a National Broadband Network (“NBN”) in conjunction with Batelco.
In late 2014 Saudi Arabia’s CITC launched two consultations; one on interconnection, and the other on access to physical infrastructure. For those who don’t know, interconnection is the connection of different networks, allowing users on different networks to call each other. Access to physical infrastructure is where operators open (provide access to) parts of their network, like their ducts, in order to for another operator to use them, for example to install their own fiber. Sounds easy, right? It’s not. Incumbents want to protect their positions, challengers want to attack these positions, and so negotiations are often slow and tricky. Clear rules on interconnection and access are therefore essential. The CITC’s consultations will be critical in reviewing what’s working and what isn’t, ultimately with a view to strengthening fair competition between operators for the benefit of consumers. The consultations were due to end in early February 2015.
This market is in a real state of transition. In May 2014 the Kuwaiti Government published its long awaited Telecommunications Law, with a view to establishing an independent telecoms regulator. The regulator’s board has been established, but the executive regulation required to fully effect the new law is not yet published. The new law says that the regulator will take over from the Ministry of Communications 6 months after the executive regulation is published and in the meantime parts of the old regulatory regime that are not inconsistent with the new law will remain in effect. Kuwait already has three mobile operators and a number of ISPs but only one fixed line operator, which is the Ministry of Communications itself. It will be interesting to see whether and how the fixed line market opens up.
In April 2014 the Omani Government incorporated an NBN Co however little is available in the public domain about how or what precisely it will do. The industry is watching this closely to see exactly what will be implemented.
With two new NBN Cos expected to become operational in Bahrain and Oman, a new regulator in Kuwait and potentially a new access regime in Saudi Arabia, there is a lot to keep an eye on in 2015.
Eamon Holley, Legal Director, DLA Piper Middle East LLP