BUILDING BRIDGES ON
In keeping with 2015’s focus on the consumer, the TRA’s engagement and activity extended beyond the Kingdom and into the international arena. Historically, the TRA has always maintained close cooperation with many official organisational bodies across the globe and this year proved no exception given its active engagement with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). As part of its activities, the TRA participated in various regional preparatory meetings for both the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) 2015 and the World Telecommunications Standardization Assembly (WTSA) 2016. During the latter part of 2015, the TRA participated in the global dialogue of the WRC, which was hosted in Geneva and was attended by representatives from around 190 member states and over 500 sector members from around the world.
The TRA has also been active at the regional level and worked closely at a number of key events held by the Arab League and the Arab Regulatory Network (AREGNET) the latter comprises regulators from the Arab member states coming together to share and address many regulatory issues. On behalf of AREGNET, the TRA commissioned an updated price benchmarking study covering five different types of telecoms services including PSTN, Mobile Voice and data, leased line, fixed broadband and Mobile Broadband. Additionally, the TRA had multiple bilateral discussions with other international regulators, sharing experiences and learning from one another’s best practices.
Focusing more on the Gulf region, the TRA played a significant role in GCC Council meetings, especially through its leadership of the GCC Roaming Working Group (often referred to as GCC Roaming Group) relating to International Mobile Roaming (IMR).
For many years, IMR has been a topic of intense discussion and concern, not solely within the GCC region, but also globally. It has been widely acknowledged that, in the absence of intervention by governments or regulators, the prices that consumers pay for IMR services tend to be high in relation both to comparable domestic prices and to the real underlying cost of providing these services. These inflated prices are understood to represent a burden on societal welfare, and can result in individuals being subject to the risk of unexpectedly high bills (“Bill Shock”), and therefore they rely on multiple Subscriber Identification Modules (SIMs) and thus multiple mobile numbers across the different countries that they frequently visit. In response to these concerns, the GCC Ministerial Committee studied, consulted on, and implemented a roaming regulation in 2010. The regulation took full effect as of 1 February 2012. A price cap was introduced at the retail and wholesale level on calls made within the visited country (local calls), and on calls made to other GCC member states (international calls), including the home country. Following that, GCC ministers called for an assessment regarding the effectiveness of the existing regulation, and a review of all other IMR services (including data, voice calls received, SMS, MMS, and video calls) in order to determine whether further regulation was needed.
In order to meet the requirement of the ministerial committee, and under the project management of the TRA Bahrain and with the support of a leading global consultancy firm, the GCC Roaming Working Group went through an extensive data gathering and analysis process. This process resulted in a consultation paper, which was published on 04 September 2014. The consultation responses where reviewed and a consultation final report was published on the 30 April 2015. This was a key document leading to the GCC Roaming Regulation 2.0 approved by the ministerial committee of the GCC Council in June 2015. Globally, this can be considered the second occasion on which any price caps have been introduced for IMR at a regional level, following the European Union.
Further to the work on IMR, the TRA also has maintained its leadership in the area of indicator reporting, the TRA initiated a request for a pan-GCC indicator report – the responsibility for this was channelled to the GCC’s Statistics Directorate to produce the report on behalf of the GCC member states. The report will enable member states to compare and analyse the status of telecommunication markets within the region. Given the project is ongoing, the TRA has planned to enhance this further in the future in order to enable better decision-making tools for industry leaders, so that they may reach informed decisions and guide the region to further success at national, regional and international levels.