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Telco regulator to launch

120727_07
Women speak on mobile phones outside a shop in Phnom Penh yesterday. The government hopes to form a separate telecoms regulator next month. Photograph: William Kelly/Phnom Penh Post

A regulator for Cambodia’s telecommunications industry is expected to launch next month with the hopes of putting in order a sector that has seen little regulation during its short history.

Industry insiders have called the move positive but many questioned the body’s ability to rein in control without the backing of a telecommunications law.

The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has high hopes for the Telecom Regulator of Cambodia (TRC). Officials said the body will be divested from the ministry and will look to tackle some of the industry’s biggest challenges.

A telecoms law more than a decade in the making has yet to be approved, however. Guidelines for mobile operators and internet service protocols (ISPs), which provide internet services, often come in the form of sub-decrees directly from the government.

Without a law in place, forging a gap between policy maker and regulator would be difficult, insiders said.

“In terms of how much empowerment [the TRC] will have, I think it’s fairly limited. Other regulators in the region are pursuant on a law. But here, it will be pursuant on sub-decrees,” said Firdaus Fadzil, head of regulatory affairs at Hello Mobile.

The government has sent mixed signals to the sector during the past three years. An edict in late 2009 put a “pricing floor” on mobile services in an attempt to stop price wars.

Some operators claimed the move didn’t fit with free market practices. Others have said it would impede innovation in bundling services, which generally lowers prices.

A few ISPs suddenly found their frequencies had been granted to another firm, Star Digital TV, the Post reported in early 2010. The dispute was never resolved.

“It’s been dropped,” said a manager at an ISP that had petitioned to regain the frequency it had originally been allocated.

The company has long since cease efforts to recover any losses.

Mekong Net submitted claims to the ministry in the past, all of which went unanswered, the ISP’s chief executive Sok Channda told the Post earlier this year.

The sector also faces transparency issues, something the regulator is expected to confront.

Inter-network calls in Cambodia must transfer – at a cost – through state-owned Telecom Cambodia. Some operators said they looked forward to ending what they called an unnecessary practice that raised prices to subscribers.

“There’s no value added and it has no benefit to end users,” Firdaus Fadzil said.

According to one official at the ministry, the TRC will also look to bring in lost revenues from operators.

As of late last year, mobile operators, fixed-line operators and ISPs owed the ministry US$16 million in fees. Despite quick growth in subscriber numbers, revenues at the ministry in 2011 fell by about 26 per cent year on year, the Post reported in April.

Operators have also complained that some mobile companies refuse to pay outstanding debts to others.

To contact the reporter on this story: Don Weinland at don.weinland@phnompenhpost.com

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