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Batelco CEO critical of Bahraini regulator

Batelco was recently ordered to withdraw new broadband packages for subscribers

Batelco CEO critical of Bahraini regulator
Gert Rieder, CEO of Batelco.

Relations between the Bahraini telecoms regulator, the TRA, and the country’s incumbent, Batelco, are getting worse rather than better, the head of the telco’s local operations has said.

“In 2010, I haven’t had one single approval of any promotion or pricing scheme on the fixed net side from the regulators. So I’m being delayed, I’m being pushed back,” Gert Rieder, chief executive of Batelco Bahrain, told Arabian Business.

“We want to offer competitive prices but the regulator is, it seems, finding whatever excuse to push us back from launching what, in the end, customers would like us to launch.”

Last month, the TRA issued an emergency order to suspend automatic speed upgrades and withdraw the enhanced packages that Batelco was offering its broadband subscribers. While the regulator argued that the telco had not obtained the necessary approval before continuing, Rieder said that he believed the firm was “on the right track to launch as we did.”

“Compared to earlier regulated markets like Europe and the US, the way that regulation has been done in Bahrain is not optimal. I miss us having a dialogue that involves us getting upfront approvals on services, pricing and monitoring after launch. Here, it’s very much no go, no go and no go,” Rieder continued.

“The approval processes are lengthy, and the amount of data required to get approvals are completely out of scope compared to other markets. I’ve worked with several regulators, but I’ve never had to provide as much data to a detailed level as I have to do in the small Bahraini market.”

The Batelco Bahrain CEO also said that a 30-day feedback scheme to provide approval for new promotions or pricing schemes had often added to delays in getting lower prices across to customers.

“Too often, I see they are using the whole 30-day period – often, on the last day of that period, I get another couple of questions. Even in dialogue, we’ve addressed questions and have believed we are on safe ground for approval,” Rieder said.

“And then 30 days later, another two questions come for us to answer, which means another 30-day waiting period. So basically you’ve just lost three months of time, when I believe a constructive dialogue would involve us asking the regulator what their concerns are and addressing them immediately, passing the information and feedback and getting the approval.”

The rocky relationship between the incumbent and the TRA, which is in charge of maintaining a competitive landscape in the Gulf state’s market, is not new.

In 2008, Batelco complained that it had been stopped from launching new products and tariffs, an issue that it brought up again in 2008. In return, the TRA said that it would have been anti-competitive to allow Batelco to offer high-speed broadband services at the prices it had suggested.

When asked whether relations between Batelco and the TRA were improving at all, Rieder replied: “To be honest, I think we’re moving in the wrong direction at the moment. I did hope that with the change of key personnel on the regulator’s side, the dialogue would be improved.”

“But in the last couple of months we have fallen back into the situation we had before where basically everything is done through paper and orders rather than a constructive dialogue.”

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