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Thu 27 May 2004 04:00 AM

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Lebanon to get telecoms regulator this year

The Lebanese government is expected to shortly give the go-ahead for the creation of the country’s telecoms regulator.

The Lebanese government is expected to shortly give the go-ahead for the creation of the country’s telecoms regulator.

Decrees defining the structure, membership and funding of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) are now waiting to be signed by the country’s Cabinet, while preparatory work on the body's interconnection and tariff guidelines has been taking place within Lebanon's Ministry of Telecommunications (MoT).

“The decrees have not yet been signed but are expected to be passed imminently,” says Alan Horne, project team leader, TRA.

“We have been working on all the key building blocks that are needed to establish the TRA, but we haven't been able to establish a separate entity and start recruiting,” he adds.

Questions have been asked about the likely impact of the TRA in light of the state's ownership of the country's fixed and mobile service providers and the lack of competition in the market.

Concerns have also been raised over its likely independence from political influence.

“As long as the government owns both the fixed and mobile networks, there will be no competition, so having a regulator would just be window dressing,” says Kamal Shehadi, managing director of Beirut-based Connexus Consulting.

“The appointments to the regulator are also likely to be political appointments and political fighting will carry on within the regulator,” he adds.

The government, however, says that the organisation will aim to create a stable regulatory environment that would attract investment into Lebanon when the sale of the country’s fixed and mobile networks eventually happens.

According to Horne, the TRA's creation was one of the conditions that several candidates called for during last year's failed mobile privatisation process, along with the establishment of a clear interconnection and mobile tariff structure.

“We have up to four years (the length of the mobile network management contracts) to get the industry to a stable regulatory position that investors expect to see,” he adds.

In the shorter term, the TRA — whether within the MoT or as a separate entity — will also be involved this year in a review of mobile tariff rates and the implementation of a new numbering plan, due by the start of 2005.

Consumer groups have complained recently about mobile prices in Lebanon, which, along with a restrictive numbering plan, are seen as a key barrier to subscriber growth.

According to the country's Telecoms Act, there will be five board members of the TRA and its funds will be generated from the industry directly.

The organisation’s employees will be drawn from the MoT and Lebanon's fixed line operator, Ogero, as well as other sources.

“The law is quite clear that the TRA should be independent. Having its own funding and being able to pay competitive salaries will considerably assist in this process,” says Horne.

“The MoT is attempting to select a group of people that are knowledgeable and independent and the TRA’s procedures and functions are being tied down thoroughly so that the individuals below the board know which procedures to follow,” he adds.

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