Trading blows

A familiar row erupted between operator and TRA that saw both sides trade fire through tetchy press releases

Tags: BahrainBahrain Telecommunications CompanyCompetitionFineTelecommunications Regulatory Authority - Bahrain
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By  Roger Field Published  September 24, 2009

When Gert Rieder was appointed CEO of Batelco’s Bahraini operation earlier this year, many people close to the country’s telecoms sector assumed the move would herald a new era of improved relations between the incumbent and Bahrain’s TRA.

Peter Kaliaropoulos, who stepped up to group CEO of Batelco when Rieder joined the team, was renowned for his public disputes with the TRA, and many analysts may have been forgiven for thinking that Rieder had been appointed specifically to bridge a widening gulf between the two organisations.

But that theory was certainly put to the test during the past couple of weeks, when a familiar row erupted between operator and TRA that saw both sides trade fire through tetchy press releases.

First came an announcement from the TRA, which said it had handed out its biggest ever fine to Batelco for allegedly engaging in anti-competitive behaviour by restricting other operators from accessing international internet cables located in one of its buildings.

The fine, and the very public way it was meted out, provoked a rapid and well-argued statement from Batelco, which refuted the TRA’s findings and accused the regulator of reneging on an agreement it had signed regarding access to the international cable in 2004.

Both sides then appeared to return to their trenches to consider their next move. But  while most commentators waited for the TRA to respond to Batelco’s claims, the silence was broken by an apparent pot-shot from the regulator, which sent out a statement unrelated to the fine and instead about another issue sure to provoke the ire of the incumbent – the need for local loop unbundling to counter Batelco’s fixed-line dominance.

Batelco did not respond on this issue, and probably didn’t need to, as its stance against the idea is well known.

The next release from the TRA was also unrelated to the original dispute, and was even conciliatory in tone. The TRA announced that it had approved new interconnection and access services offered by Batelco to other licensed operators, and even praised the operator for reducing the cost of wholesale international leased line services to other operators.

While the last release is unlikely to mark an end to ongoing disagreements over issues such as local loop unbundling and mobile number portability, it at least indicates that both regulator and incumbent are committed to the task of improving telecoms services in Bahrain, even if they do have often widely varying opinions on how to achieve it.

The turf disputes between the two organisations may sometimes give the impression of a fractured market, but they are in fact an indicator that Bahrain represents the Gulf’s healthiest telecom market, and the country that is making the greatest strides to improve its telecoms services.

A similar level of vigorous debate could certainly help make headway in less competitive markets, such as the UAE and Qatar.

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