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Jordan overhauls telco law

Jordan has embarked on an ambitious bid to attract investment, stimulate innovation and stir competition in its nascent telco sector by casting new provisions to its telecommunications law.

Unveiling the changes, Dr Fawaz Zu’bi, Jordan’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology (MoICT), stressed the changes mean a fairer, more open and competitive commercial environment prior to the onset of full market liberalization in 2005. “This new law sets the foundation by which we will build a dynamic knowledge infrastructure in Jordan, serviced by a growing and vibrant technology sector.”

The amended legislation also transforms the role of the nation’s former Ministry of Post and Communications by altering its name to the MoICT in a bid to reflect its technology remit. The body is also responsible for the adoption of e-government services.

Detailing the changes at a press conference in the capital, Amman, Dr Zu’bi said the move had been prompted by a need to conform to World Trade Organisation strictures on free trade and also to attract foreign investment into the monopolized fixed line and mobile duopoly.

The law also passes regulatory responsibilities for the sector to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), a quasi-independent watchdog staffed by five commissioners appointed on the minister’s approval.

Mamoun Balqar, self-described Ombudsman and director general of the TRC, explained: “The amendments to the law enable the TRC to act as an independent guarantor of a fair, competitive telecommunications sector in Jordan and allow us to maximize opportunities for investment, growth and development.”

He added that the commission would perform a hybrid function, representing the interests of consumers, service providers and government - a role that appears to enmesh the new body in a series of commercial conflicts of interest.

Yet Balqar dismissed the notion that the TRC could not be an unbiased arbiter of competing interests. “The role of the TRC is to ensure a level playing field for everyone by providing guidance and positive regulatory assistance to help both the market and the consumer.” Dr. Zu’bi claimed that the TRC would follow European Union guidelines for independent regulators. Last year, the TRC was criticized by Arab Advisors Group, a market research firm, for its apparent inability to ensure fair competition in the Jordanian communications market.

Additional changes in the law include a National Register of Frequencies to coordinate the allocation of spectrum, plus greater scope for the TRC to hold spectrum licence auctions. “The provision of competitive bidding for TRC has a major effect on the treasury as the TRC will have more flexibility in [conducting] auctions and allocating frequency,” said Zu’bi.

According to Balqar, the TRC would better manage the allocation of spectrum between private enterprise, the armed forces and intelligence community. “Today in Jordan, most of this work is done by the armed forces. But they never know how to realize the investment potential [of awarding licences].”

Other developments to be introduced by the amended law include the creation of a Universal Service Fund, a move to give the poor access to basic telecommunications by cutting the cost of connection.

In a statement, the ministry declared: “The efficiencies brought about by these changes will attract foreign investors who expect a clear, transparent regime for the management of this scare national resource”.

As if to underscore the transformation Jordan expects to bring about through its amended law, Jordan Telecom’s cellular subsidiary, MobileCom, unveiled its latest General Packets Radio Service (GPRS), technology that allows wireless Internet connections from cellphone to desktop, laptop or PDA.

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