One of the major problems facing the telecom markets in the Arab world is the high roaming prices between Arab countries, in a way that negatively affects the Arab consumer. As consumer protection is one of the key pillars of the NTRA mandate, the NTRA exerted efforts to solve the problem for the benefit of the Egyptian and Arab consumer.
The issue was raised in June 2005 meeting of the Arab council for Telecommunications and Information Technology Ministers. The meeting assigned the Arab Regulators Network (the ARNET) to examine the problem and make the necessary recommendations.
The ARNET- presided by Egypt during that term- responded promptly by holding an extra-ordinary meeting in Cairo. Invitation was extended to the ITU Arab Bureau, mobile operators, Arab GSM association, General Secretariat of the Arab League, EU representatives, civil society representatives, in addition to ARNET members. The NTRA presented a detailed study on the current prices of roaming between Arab countries. The study revealed a striking discrepancy between prices set by operators, which ranged from 15 % to 700%!
The EU representative presented the European solutions recommended in this regard. In an exclusive session for regulators, a decision was taken to form a working group to examine the problem and recommend possible solutions. The Roaming WG included experts from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Syria, and Algeria. The NTRA was chosen as a president for the WG.
In March 2006, with the ARNET presidency moving to the United Arab Emirates, another meeting was held in Abu Dhabi, to follow up achievements of the working group. Participants stressed the necessity of transparency. They also urged operators to provide all the required data.
Roaming in the Arab world is a twofold problem:
First: Lack of Transparency:
The Arab consumer is not exactly aware, when roaming, of the price he is going to pay for the minute in case of sending or receiving calls. Extent of transparency differs from one operator to another.
To stress consumer’s right to get transparent information, ARNET took the following decision:
“All telecommunication companies and operators in the Arab countries shall adhere to transparency in providing roaming prices. Consumer should be full aware of the best ways to use the SMS and all other mobile facilities”.
Second: High Rates per Minute:
The main objective of the working group is to reach the best price possible per minute. It is mainly concerned with providing the Arab consumer with a suitable price as well as generating profits for operators.
Pricing process considered the following:
- Right of operators to generate profit.
- The relatively new mobile networks in the Arab world.
- Right of consumers to get convenient prices.
Reducing roaming prices is apt to have the following impact on the Arab society:
- Inching up number of roaming consumers and hence multiplying revenues.
- Relieving the consumer of buying a new line, and this can lessen consumption of scared resources such as numbering.
- Developing tourism and trade between Arab countries.
Arab states welcomed the suggestion. GSM officials expressed great concern and this was reflected in the visits they paid to the NTRA premises to submit their comments in this regard. Mr. Bishr Mahna, Head of the GSMA Board of Directors, attended the meeting of the Operation & Tariff Working group, which was held from 24 to 26 July 2006, at the Arab League Premises in Cairo, to present his comments as per the Egyptian proposal
The NTRA is going to convene a number of meetings to follow up studies so as to reach solutions serving best the interests of the Egyptian and the Arab consumer.
The ARNET is to convene a meeting to discuss that issue and take the necessary decisions accordingly.
Within the framework of the NTRA’s endeavor to amend the Egyptian Telecom Regulation Law No. 10/ 2003 as per the changes taking place in our beloved country, Egypt, and in line with the requirements of democracy, preservation of the citizens’ freedoms and their privacy and in a way that ensures opening markets to attract new investments in this promising sector, we are looking forward to receiving your suggestions on the amendments to the Egyptian Telecom Law in order to guarantee the citizen’s freedom and privacy and ensure the NTRA’s ability and capacity to carry out its mandates and missions concerning the protection of the consumers’ rights in addition to the State’s right to protect its national resources. End date for receiving your suggestions 1 June 2011