Fierce attacks have been made by the privately-owned mobile carriers against the state-owned Telecom Egypt, after beginning measures to receive Egypt's fourth mobile operator license, which they believe could lead to unfair competition.
In an interview with Telecommunications Minister Atef Helmy over accusations of endangering Telecom Egypt, the minister defended his decisions saying they all seek interests of the sector.
Helmy said the latest decision for cabinet was on 3 September with the final approval on all measures taken to activate the unified license (which includes mobile services, landlines, internet and data transfer) for all companies. Talks then started between the carriers and the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) over services of each operator according to their choices.
The unified license, according to Helmy, achieves justice for all workers and guarantee equal competition for users as well. Competition will not be over voice services only, however, the most important is the data transfer, as the future is for the high-speed internet and broadband services.
Asked about the attack launched by Etisalat mobile operator against the ministry and the NTRA accusing them of monopoly, Helmy denied any pressure on the ministry indicating that the mobile network carriers threatened to resort to international arbitration over agreements between them and the government and that reaching a balanced solution was imperative, regarding it as an accomplishment not a response to pressure. If we reviewed the government’s stances since 20 March, when cabinet gave a preliminary approval on the unified license and the escalation that followed by mobile carriers, you would not find any stepping back, which means no response was made toward pressures, he argued.
“I’m completely responsible for the telecommunications sector in Egypt. My duty is to develop the sector, bring investments and develop the infrastructure. Telecom Egypt cannot pump such investments nor afford costs of making the network available nationwide. The telecommunications sector needs investments of around LE40 billion, so internet service can be available across Egypt,” Helmy said, adding that spread of internet service brings benefits to economy as well as job opportunities, especially to information technology industry. “Around 45,000 professionals work in this field, bringing LE11 billion to the country.”
Helmy added that Telecom Egypt is unable to meet needs of the market, as number of subscribers as well as internet users is growing rapidly, which makes opening the door for investments in this sector urgent.
Asked if the privately-owned mobile carriers will have the right to use the basic infrastructure of Telecom Egypt, Helmy said, “The existing mobile operators already use Telecom Egypt’s infrastructure. They rent the infrastructure and its cables, which is a huge income for Telecom Egypt. However, the minister denied that anyone would own Telecom Egypt’s infrastructure. “Telecom Egypt will continue to manage its infrastructure in the way it’s already run through.”
“Telecommunications and information technology used to participate by LE58.8 billion in the national income and 3.8 percent of the national revenues. This year, we target reaching LE66 billion and 4.1 percent participation in the national product. Last year, growth rate reached 10 percent. This year, we seek reaching 13 percent, which means the unified license is part of a public strategy through constructing a basic infrastructure of broadband internet to spread services for society development,” he said.
“Before 25 January revolution, internet users reached 19 millions. This year, the number reached 44 millions, which marks 250 percent increase. Mobile phone users was around 59 millions. In April, it reached 101 million subscribers. We reduced the number after discovering the incomplete date of some users, making the number 94 million,” Helmy explained.
Fifty-eight protocols were signed with the different state sectors over the past two years over automation of the authorities in order to be linked to information technology. Twenty-five percent of the protocols was activated due to circumstances that faced the country, the minister said, adding that the rest would soon be enacted and that the priority was given to food supply, electricity and basic needs of citizens.
The ministry seeks attracting investments, providing jobs and taking part in the national product “through repeating the smart village example,” Helmy Said. “If we generalized this successful example on all of the state sectors, it will achieve great success. We started with the technological village in Maadi. There will be seven technological zones across Egypt so we could have the ‘digital society’ and hence citizen could benefit from the services in his governorate without having to go to the capital through internet.”
“There will be one in Aswan, one in Assiut and one in Beni Suef, which is one of the social justice principles,” he added.
Regarding the incomplete data of some SIM cards, the minister said, “Strict measures have been taken over the past few months, specifically in April 2014. There has been cooperation with all authorities including the mobile operators to face the issue, which had a negative effect on the whole society.”
A total of 3.8 million lines with incomplete data were suspended on 30 June. “However, some lines with incomplete data were still working. Their number reached 4 million. Eight million lines were suspended. Whoever wanted then get his line back, had to complete the data. Data of around 14 million lines were revised.”
Concerning the main amendments on the law of telecommunications and free of information circulation, Helmy said he cannot speak about specific terms, but in general talks are still ongoing with authorities in question in order to preserve national security. “The law will treat all of the vulnerabilities that were used before in terrorist or illegitimate purposes. It’s one of seven laws that are being reviewed like the electronic signature, cyber security, privacy and freedom of information circulation.”
“We have a strategy composed of three goals. First one is establishing a digital society, spreading internet services, mobile phone usage, call center, applying the smart ID card system. The second one includes supporting the outsourcing industry and the technological zones through attracting investments and creating jobs. The third goal is making Egypt the international center of internet services in the region, depending on a maritime cable,” Helmy said, adding that Egypt has 17 cables and a unique geographic location, thus the ministry works on making Egypt the center between America, Europe, Asia and south of Africa.
For the new Suez Canal project, the telecommunications sector, according to Helmy, will render banking and logistic services to the project. Legislations are also being made so countries and companies investing in the project could reassure that their data passed through the sector on the system be secured.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm