Finance minister tells Posts and Telecommunications to resolve disagreements
FINANCE Minister Keat Chhon has asked the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPTC) to resolve disagreements with the private sector over the proposed creation of a state-run centralised Internet hub before a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen next month, said IT company representatives who attended a meeting with government officials on Tuesday.
According to four sources, the request was made at a Government-Private Sector Forum (GPSF) conference on laws, taxation and government on Tuesday afternoon.
Representatives of the Kingdom’s telecoms firms and Internet service providers (ISPs) used the session to raise concerns about the controversial proposal to create a domestic Internet exchange point (DIX) hosted by Telecom Cambodia – through which all of Cambodia’s Internet traffic would be routed.
International commentators and domestic companies say they believe the plan has the potential to crush the Kingdom’s thriving ICT sector, and have expressed concern that the move could result in a drop in quality for users.
AZ Communications CEO Chris Maloy, who acted as a spokesman for ISPs on Wednesday, confirmed via email that the proposal had been discussed at length during the invite-only meeting, along with the issue of overlapping licences.
The potentially damaging impact of the ministry’s actions on investor confidence was highlighted, Maloy said.
Keat Chhon then asked the ministry and private sector representatives to resolve all problems related to the proposal before a GPSF meeting with Hun Sen scheduled for April 27, those in attendance said. A potential solution on how to resolve issues pertaining to the centralisation plan, as well as licencing, must be submitted to the premier early next month, Keat Chhon said, according to attendees.
Maloy said private sector representatives would be happy to discuss their concerns with government officials.
“We hope to meet with the MPTC, as directed by Keat Chhon, to resolve the issue,” Maloy said.
The intervention of a senior government official in the ongoing row was widely viewed by those in attendance as a step forward by the private sector representatives, one of whom said it was good to be “given the ear” of the minister after being disappointed with a lack of MPTC response to industry-wide concerns.
One attendee who spoke on condition of anonymity said “frustration” had been building within the sector prior to the meeting.
“The next step is for the sector to refuse to die quietly,” he said. “The MPTC has not been listening. It is taking a healthy market and working out how to use the law to destroy everything that has been built up over the last 10 years.”
He estimated that around US$500 million of investment in the IT sector and related infrastructure could be at risk of destruction if the centralised hub is created.
“We hope the ministry might see that no one in the industry supports this idea,” said another attendee, who also wished to remain anonymous.
Telecoms officials have said they believe the hub would enable the government to control Internet access while providing cheaper access to international lines, thanks to wholesale buys.
That argument has also been made by Moa Chakrya, director general of the MPTC, who did not reply to an email request for comment Wednesday, and MPTC Secretary General La Narath, who was present at Tuesday’s meeting.
Keat Chhon could not be reached Wednesday.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BROOKE LEWIS