Interview with H.E Fadi Kawar, Chairman of Telecommunication Regulatory Commission
What is your overall assessment of the Jordan telecom and ICT sector and how does it compare to neighboring countries? What are its edge and specifics?
Compared to other countries, I believe we are maybe the second or third in the region in terms of the competition. I believe Morocco and Bahrain are well-advanced regulatory and telecom environments. We in Jordan are fairly better than our neighbors. In 2005 there was a full liberalization of the telecom market. TRC started licensing new companies that were interested in providing different telecom services in different fields. Our regulations include instructions on quality service and facilitating the introduction of new technology to the country. Parts of it regulate the spectrum in the country to allow more competition. Now we have technology-neutral licensing regime where the licensee comes in and applies for a license regardless of the service they want to provide. We now enjoy reduced prices, competition, and freedom of the telecom sector to work as they wish. Our role now in TRC is monitor and ensure that there is fair play among the operators, and that consumer rights are protected. We introduce new instructions and sometimes resolve disputes among the operators.
The national ICT strategy covers a period from 2007-2011. It aims to increase internet penetration to 50%, boost the number of workers in the industry to 35,000, and expand service revenues to 3 billion dollars. How successful was the implementation of this strategy and what is next?
We are striving to implement it as much as possible. We are working on a number of initiatives to promote broadband, to try to achieve that KPI of 50%. One of them is providing some tax and spectrum-fee incentives, specifically to WiMax operators, so they can enjoy reduced prices. We are trying to monitor WiMax operators to deliver specifically in the remote areas so we can have internet access there at reasonable prices. Other initiatives are related to spectrum reframing so we can allow proper spectrum management for mobile operators to get into broadband. Regarding the 50% penetration, I believe so far we are on the right track and hopefully we can exceed that by 2011.
In your opinion, what is going to be the next strategy?
We are betting heavily on the expansion of broadband. Since I joined TRC, I am trying to shift the focus to increased competition in broadband because it is very important; it is an enabler for the economic and social welfare for any country. We are developing TRC strategy for the coming 3 years and about 70 or 80% of it is directed towards projects for the expansion of broadband. For example, just recently we have mandated a resolution on the local loop of bundling which now will enforce the incumbent operator, Orange, to release its network to other smaller operators so they can provide internet at competitive prices. Hopefully that will help expand over to remote areas. I would also like to mention the introduction of LTE or LTE Advanced. We will be issuing new regulations to specify the spectrum to that and the value for that spectrum, to try to allow current operators with new investments in the LTE to guarantee broadband with higher speeds.
What are some of the difficulties you will face and what are major challenges for the sector itself?
As any regulator, enforcing our regulations is a major challenge. We are looking to increase competition and I’m sure the operators have their own market-driven objectives that sometimes make us clash. Our challenge is to try to enforce our regulations to have these operators actually provide more access to other operators in the market. The introduction of the LTE, the convergence· of fixed wireless; these are major things that we have to double up the proper regulatory environment to speed up these processes and to create a fair opportunity for the market.
Sometimes when there are major decisions that will affect major operators, they may try to fight them as much as possible. It makes a difference if you deliver immediately to the other operators or things may take longer than expected until they’re resolved with the government.
How do you see cooperation between the major players on the market and yourself?
In most aspects we have positive relationships. We may have some disagreements on certain issues, but we usually discuss in a positive manner. We never come to a point where there is a clash; it may take some legal proceedings, but at the end we visit the operators, and listen to their issues about the sector and their dealings with the TRC, resolving them in a positive and fair manner.
What are some of the opportunities for investors in Jordan?
The introduction of the LTE technology will require the importing of special equipment which will provide investment opportunity to equipment suppliers, such as building fiber and contracting. The LTE will allow extremely high speeds of internet. That will make it easier for a user to use mobiles for content, so investment in content at this time is very important. Since we are in arab countries and the Arabic language is important, Arabization is very important. There is a major expectation for growth in my opinion and I believe several sub-industries that will be coming from the telecom will be flourishing soon. We already have 110% percent penetration rate, and I don't see any reason to invest more to increase that penetration rate.
Can you mention some of the regulations that added value to the final customers ?
We have implemented competition safeguards regulations specifically to monitor competition among dominant operators to ensure that all the prices are fair and suitable for consumers. We have interfered on several occasions and resolved disputes among operators that eventually benefitted the consumer. In TRC we have a customer care department, we have a toll-free number that people can call to complain against the operators. We are currently looking at ways to facilitate our procedures so people who want to import equipment can find it easy to get approvals from TRC with minimal procedures.
What is your strategy for communicating globally?
I think our website is very comprehensive. All the resolutions that have direct effect on the consumer or operator are immediately posted in their entirety on our website. Everytime we issue an important regulation that has direct effect on the consumer we go to the media and explain it. We are trying to use the internet as much as possible to send informational emails to consumers. Usually the investment board or the Ministry is more focused on promoting investment in Jordan. If an investor wants information, they usually come here and meet with us.
What is your vision for TRC and what would you like to have achieved before stepping down ?
We have four goals in our strategy for the coming three years related to providing information to the public, increasing competition, promoting broadband, and having an efficient TRC. There are several projects and initiatives that we are creating towards these 4 major goals. I want to implement all of them as soon as possible. There are several initiatives but most of our attention with our TRC resources is to increase what we feel will promote not only the telecom sector, but also the entire economic and social welfare of Jordan. If we achieve that, then I will be achieving what I want here.