A new draft telecommunications law prepared in the absence of public participation and transparency
الأربعاء | 27/03/2019 - 04:53 PM

Demanding that the President not approve it,

Ramallah – The Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) held a session to discuss the new Draft Telecommunications Law, which has been on the table of the Council of Ministers since early 2019. In spite of earlier confirmation, the Ministry of Telecommunications and Technology (MoTIT) and Ministry of National Economy (MoNE) did not participate in the session. The event brought together a number of private and public telecommunications service providers, as well as representatives of consumer protection associations, Enough! Telecom Companies Movement, information technology unions, research centres, and legal institutions.

All participants demanded that the President not approve the draft law until such time relevant public consultations are finalised with all stakeholders. Lacking openness and transparency, citizens have been entirely eliminated from participation in drafting this law, which pertains to a basic service provided to them. Discussants called on the Palestinian government to revise and redraft the law in light of the comments made by key stakeholders, particularly large and small telecom service providers, consumer protection associations, legal centres, and telecom experts.

AMAN demanded that the government disclose adopted policies for regulating and governing the telecom service sector. Wondering if the government policy was reflected in the draft law, AMAN also asked if the regulation drew a dividing line between the telecom policy-maker, namely MoTIT; the regulatory body which provides monitoring and supervision, namely the Palestinian Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (PTRC); and executive agencies, namely, licensed telecom service providers.

Draft law issued ‘out of the blue’ and in the absence of inclusiveness and transparency principles

Participants, including the Palestinian Telecommunications Company (PalTel), unanimously agreed that the draft law was issued all of a sudden. Although it went through three readings, serious consultations were not in place with all stakeholders and relevant bodies. The draft law does not include the comments introduced by these parties or consumer protection associations. Compared to neighbouring countries, Palestinian citizens are increasingly complaining of high telecom prices. This is in clear violation of the government’s slogan “Putting Citizens First” of the National Policy Agenda 2017-2022.

Overlapping powers and roles between the MoTIT and PTRC

Discussants, including the Palestinian Information Technology Association of Companies (PITA), expressed dissatisfaction with the draft law as currently drafted, indicating that it does not reflect a contemporary regulation. It does not protect all stakeholders, nor does it lay the foundation for an independent PTRC. In particular, Article 21 of the draft law does not provide for unambiguous roles and powers of the MoTIT and PTRC. Telecommunications should also be distinguished from information technology. To be combined under a single law does not do justice to either system.

Lacking deterrent penalties against service providers or to prevent conflict of interests

Participants explained that penalties prescribed for service providers’ encroachment on public rights lacked a balance. To date, courts have not rendered any deterrent penalties, or even as a minimal fine as one Jordanian dinar, against any service provider.
Discussants wondered if the new draft law would prevent conflict of interests between government institutions, PTRC, and service providers. In this context, AMAN stressed the need for enforcing the Anti-Corruption Law to all companies, which provide public services to Palestinian citizens, allowing fair competition in service provision, ensuring citizens’ right to access high-quality service, and guaranteeing fair price for all stakeholders. AMAN recommended that the current draft law not be approved due to ambiguous drafting.

Palestinian citizens between the hammer of monopolies and the anvil of occupation

Mr. Azim al-Shuyoukhi, Head of the Union of Palestinian Consumer Protection Associations, commented that Palestinian citizens faced a virtually complex challenge, and suffered from, both monopolies and Israeli occupation. Compared to neighbouring countries, telecom prices are exorbitant, automatically resulting in higher prices of other commodities and services. Participants were in agreement that the asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) price was costly, indicating that fees were separately priced in a monthly bill. Lacking oversight, considerable profit making increases the burden on Palestinian citizens. Moreover, the draft telecom law cannot be applicable to both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Monopoly service providers and government do comply with the principles of transparency, nor do they publicise bilateral agreements.

Movement demands: Calling on telecom companies to combat work with settlements and come up with creative solutions

In their presentation, representatives of the Enough! Telecom Companies Movement stressed the need to introduce substantial and structural amendments to the law, ensuring protection of consumers and their rights, which are abused by the MoTIT and MoNE. A dedicated union should be created to protect consumer rights. Representatives also highlighted the need to combat work with settlements and devise creative solutions to technical problems. A specialised court should be formed to dispose telecom cases and complaints. In relation to statute of limitations (i.e. a lapse of three years from the time a violation is committed), the law needs to be amended in view of the slow judicial process and backlog of cases.

MoTIT resources are inadequate and unavailable

Although the Law by Decree No. 15 of 2009 on the PTRC was approved more than 10 years ago, the Commission has not been established as an independent body yet. According to discussants, although it lacks qualified human resources, the MoTIT practically shares its human resources with the PTRC.

PalTel denies that it monopolises service provision and that consultations about law making was limited to it

Mr. Ammar Aker, CEO of PalTel Group, denied that PalTel enjoyed exclusive competition. According to Aker, PalTel incurred the most expensive licence in the world, amounting to US$ 300 million. As Aker put it, to ensure justice, any competitive company, which intends to enter the telecom market, should undergo the same conditions that applied to PalTel.
On the other hand, Aker endorsed all the remarks made by participants about the draft telecom law. More consultations should be conducted will all relevant stakeholders.



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