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Private sector still to wait for telecom law

Officials yesterday said they aim to pass a long-awaited law governing the telecommunications sector by the close of 2011, a year and a half after domestic telecom companies last provided input for the law.

Minister of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun said there was an inter-ministry meeting on Monday at the Council of Ministers that discussed the law, and that negotiations were ongoing.

He declined to provide an exact timeline for the passing  of the law, but said he hoped it would be soon.

“Maybe it will be finished at the end of this year,” he said.

If the deadline was met, it would mark two years since Cambodia’s telecom industry suggested changes to the law, according to industry insiders.

According to a copy of those changes obtained by The Post, the industry largely demanded more clarity regarding licensing and foreign ownership.

Companies were also concerned about a potential government mandate forbidding them from owning both network infrastructure and consumer services businesses, among other issues.

The revisions were submitted in September 2009, the documents showed.

Officials from Mobitel declined to comment yesterday on the law, as an Indonesian firm claimed to be working at acquiring a majority stake in the provider.

Yesterday, PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia President Rinaldi Firmansyah said it will complete its purchase of 51 percent of Mobitel in the first half of this year. Mobitel CEO David Spriggs declined comment.

Simon Perkins, Chief Executive Officer of Hello, said that while he understood the telecom law was being discussed at the Council of Ministries level, “It is not clear to us if these comments are being considered.”

When asked if the government was reviewing the industry’s proposals yesterday, Minister So Khun said he had no knowledge of them.

Opinion about whether the lack of a telecommunications law hurts the sector has varied.

“Uncertainty about the law does cause some concern for overseas investors, as it is not clear if there will be foreign ownership restrictions for example,” said Hello’s Perkins.

Some CEOs pointed to the regulatory framework already in place, saying the sector grew steadily without a formal law.

“It is not affecting our business because this law is not changing things so drastically,” said Smart Mobile CEO Thomas Hundt. “We started without a law and we continue to maintain status quo – so there is no major difference,” he said.

Minister So Khun also agreed that investment in the domestic telecoms sector has been largely unaffected, and said it will be “even easier” to invest in Cambodia once the law is passed.

The Cambodian government has been trying to pass a telecom law in some form since 1998, according to one industry observer requesting anonymity.

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