ICT development rapid but rules lacking: World Bank
A mobile phone user in Phnom Penh. Analysts say that the Cambodian telecoms network has developed quickly in recent years but still lacks adequate regulation and cooperation among networks that have left consumers short changed.
CAMBODIA has made important gains in the information and technology sector over the past 10 years, but a lack of rules and regulations remain a major obstacle, according to a World Bank report issued at the end of last week.
More than 2.6 million Cambodians have access to mobile phones, with coverage reaching across the country, according to the report titled "Sustaining Growth in a Challenging Environment". The report says that internet penetration has grown in recent years, but total usage remains low. Only 44,000 Cambodians had internet access in 2007, up from 6,000 in 2000, said Internet World Stats.
Without a comprehensive fibre-optic system, Cambodia's broadband services rely on satellites to supply a small market of only 8,000 users. Costs can run at a pricey US$89 per month for a 256-kilobits-per-second connection, in contrast to $17 in Vietnam, says the report. Service is due to improve with two fibre-optic cable systems in the works: one from Laos through Thailand and a second from Vietnam to Thailand.
But even with strong growth in the sector, the lack of a telecommunications law and government oversight leaves Cambodian telecoms dominated by three large players that don't always offer reliable service, say critics. Consumers complain they are getting cut off mid-conversation when calling competing networks, and some businesses say they can't discount value-added tax.
The industry currently falls under a prakas, or edict, and is administered directly by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications - critics say that the lack of an autonomous authority to license and regulate operators and interconnection leaves the industry open to politicisation, and ultimately hurts consumers.
"In telecommunications, there is a lot of dirty business ... some companies are blocking access to one another's networks or cutting off international calls," said opposition lawmaker Son Chhay.
Last week's World Bank report, and a 2006 report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), said that a telecommunications law will mean better services and more competition in the telecoms industry.
The ADB started a program in 2006 to improve regulation, but no law has been passed yet. But one industry source said Cambodia already has rules governing the sector.
Adam Cabot, chief operating officer of Star Cell, said: "My experience is that operators follow this prakas [on the telecoms industry]," he said. "Too much regulation is not good, but too little regulation is not good either."