Iraq's regulatory vacuum

Until early 2008, Iraq's telecoms sector seemed to have everything going for it: a population of 28 million people hungry for the latest communication technology, improved security, and a healthy stable of public and private telecom operators competing to offer mobile, fixed voice and data services.

  • E-Mail
By  Roger Field Published  November 6, 2008

Until early 2008, Iraq's telecoms sector seemed to have everything going for it: a population of 28 million people hungry for the latest communication technology, improved security, and a healthy stable of public and private telecom operators competing to offer mobile, fixed voice and data services. And overseeing it all, an independent regulator, CMC.

Of course, there have been problems, such private operators' annoyance back in 2006 when the government announced that it had procured one of the country's four mobile licences.

The regulator's judgment was also sometimes called into question, most notably for its decision to auction new mobile licences rather than hold a beauty contest, as it had previously indicated it would, a couple of years ago.

These were relatively small problems in a telecom market that was remarkably liberal compared with most of its neighbours.

Indeed, with five mobile operators and two private fixed-wireless operators, the fact that the state was also running a mobile and fixed-line operation was not viewed as a big problem.

The forces of a competitive market, backed up by an independent regulator, made the situation more palatable to Iraq's private operators.

But all that changed just a few months into 2008, when the head of Iraq's regulator, Dr Siyamend Othman, completed his term in office. The position has been left vacant since.

The situation has understandably rankled Iraq's private operators, who used October's Iraq Telecoms conference in London to vent spleen.

The operators are concerned that several important decisions made by the regulator, such as allowing operators to lay fibre-optic cable and run their own international gateways, will now be overturned by the government's Ministry of Communications.

Some of the operators were influenced to invest in Iraq because they thought these operations were part of the deal.

The situation has led some of the operators to question whether the government is simply trying to wrestle more control of the telecom sector, perhaps in a bid to help its own state-run operations.

However, telecom specialists working for the state-run operations say that the lack of a regulator is also causing problems for themselves, as well as the private operators.

Whatever the reason behind the ailing CMC, it is clear that the relationship between a vibrant telecom sector and economic and social prosperity is too great to allow Iraq's communications industry to slip.

Roger Field is the editor of Communications Middle East & Africa.

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code