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Telecom law outrage

Telecom law outrage

Cambodia’s telecom sector is outraged over a draft law handed down by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPTC) on Wednesday, which details a government plan to assert control over the industry.

In what is being labeled an “unprecedented, draconian” effort to nationalise the industry, the draft law states that no company can both operate infrastructure assets, such as antenna towers and underground cables, and also provide services, such as mobile and data plans.

If the draft law is approved, telecom companies that opt to retain their retail operations will be forced to sell off their infrastructure assets and rely on government-controlled infrastructure providers.

“Infrastructure and telecom network and other infrastructure that supports the telecom sector, need to be under the control of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications as according to the permanent regulation,” it states.

The 31-page and 100-article draft, stamped “confidential” was leaked to the Post yesterday after it was emailed to telecom companies on Wednesday afternoon. The MPTC has given the industry until Monday to form an official response to the draft law.

The draft law states that all telecom licences will be reassessed on new criteria, forcing companies to hand back their existing licences for what could lead to a complete rebalancing of the sector.

But licences and infrastructure are not all that is at risk with the government’s proposed reforms: One clause states explicity that the MPTC will use the telecom sector as a tool to maintain social order.

“To ensure the effective security, national stability and public order, the minister of the MPTC has the right to order operators to transfer their systems, which control their telecom operations, to the Ministry.”

Telecommunications companies found to be in breach of the MPTC’s new suite of regulations could incur fines from $120,000 and up to $750,000, according to the draft document, with company executives’ even facing jail time if found guilty of operating outside of the law.

“The draft is clearly out to give government total control and power over the industry and not encourage any further investment or innovation,” one industry representative, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Post.

“It goes totally against any international precedent,” the source said, adding that no appendices were attached to the draft showing justification for the “draconian” reform.

Alan Sinfield, CEO at qb, said he was shocked by the draft document, which he said fails to justify the dramatic reshuffle and was only published in Khmer, leaving executives scrambling for urgent translation as news quickly spread of the MPTC’s demands.

“All I can say is that I have been presented a brief overview of the draft law,” he said. “It contains a number of extremely concerning articles, which the government has not shown any of the mechanics for their design or implementation.”

Heads of all of Cambodia’s telecommunications companies are to meet for a two-day forum hosted by the MPTC on Monday in Phnom Penh. Sources have told the Post that the entire industry is in agreement over rejecting the government’s draft.

News of the leaked draft was quickly quashed by MPTC officials who denied ever sending the email or even inviting the private sector to contribute to its development.

“We have never given it [draft law] to any private company because it has not been done,” Ek Vandy, Secretary of State of Ministry of Post and Telecom said.

“I cannot say what is in the draft because I don’t have it in my hand now, but we are working hard to make the law more flexible to the recent situation and be complied with the international standard.”

Vandy, however, said the draft was in the final stages of development before being submitted to the National Assembly for final approval and that he did not expect the MPTC to implement the new law before the year’s end.

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