|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East 2004|
|Topic:||Egypt’s Telecom Regulatory Authority – A Model for Telecom|
|Author:||Engr. Alaa El-Din Mohamed Fahmy|
|Organisation:||National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority, Egypt|
Engr. Alaa El-Din Mohamed Fahmy is the Executive President of Egypt’s National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA) and the elected Chairman of the ITU WG-ITR, the International Telecommunication Union’s Working Group for International Telecommunication Regulation. Previously, Eng. Alaa Fahmy served the government as the Director of the Armed Forces Main Information Centre (AFMIC), as vice-president of the Information Systems Department in the Ministry of Defense and as the manager of a number of telecommunication and IT departments of the Cabinet Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC). In the private sector, Eng. Alaa Fahmy, was the General Manager of a well-known company, Chief Technical officer and stakeholder, in the company that built Egypt’s first Internet and Public Data Network backbone. For many years, he has also led a number of important Telecommunication and IT Industry associations in Egypt. In recognition of his achievements, he was nominated, in 2002, for the prestigious World Technology Network international award in communications technology. Engr. Alaa Fahmy earned his BSc. from the Military Technical College and his post-graduate studies were from Ain Shams University, Cairo University and American Institute.
Egypt’s telecommunications sector has seen a five-fold expansion in recent years stimulated, in great part, by the Egyptian telecommunications regulator – the NTRA. The NTRA is charged with regulating and monitoring the telecom industry, optimising the use of the radio frequency spectrum and the licensing of new services and service providers. The NTRA is responsible for a dramatic increase in the number of licences issued and, with the Ministry, for implementing Internet services for the price of a local phone call.
President Hosni Mubarak’s information society initiative, four years ago, has transformed Egypt into a regional telecommunication hub. The many value added services incorporated into the Egyptian telecom industry’s portfolio led to a five-fold expansion of the sector. Fixed lines have doubled, mobile users grew from two to six million subscribers and there are now six public data networks and 150 ISPs. Meanwhile, the number of Internet users has climbed to over three and a half million, thanks to the free-Internet and PC for every home initiatives. In line with these developments, other value added services were added to the portfolio of the sector; these include pre-paid cards, pay phones, call centers and bulk SMS, among others. New technologies, such as voice over IP, Wi-Fi and Wi-Max wireless data, are being readied for local use. Today, Egypt’s telecom services stand shoulder to shoulder with those of any developed nation. Central to the successful development of Egypt’s telecommunications, since the liberalisation and privatisation of the sector, was the establishment of an enabling legal framework for Egypt’s National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority, the NTRA, in 1998. The Telecom Act of 1998 laid the foundation for the NTRA as a regulatory body charged with monitoring the telecom industry. The role of the NTRA is to guarantee high quality telecom services, equally, to all citizens at an adequate price. The NTRA is also charged with optimising the use of such national resources as the radio frequency spectrum and, with respect to telecommunications, ensuring the preservation of Egypt’s national security. The NTRA strives to reconcile and harmonise the varied interests of Egypt’s private companies, the public users and the government to best meet the country’s needs. The regulatory mechanism in any country is derived from and has to be centered on, that country’s culture. Therefore, there is a need to tightly link the political issues with the regulatory ones; and this is where the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, MCIT, plays a vital role. Egypt’s telecommunication sector is in transition and the concept of a regulatory body is a new one for the country. If a regulator is to work effectively, things have to be done gradually but steadily, so that they can be accepted and effective and, at the same time, not suffer any serious drawbacks. Hence, the need to draw a balance between the service providers – and provide them with a good working environment – so they can develop and offer their customers services that are up to international standards. The new Telecom Act put the responsibility of coordinating and developing telecom policies on the NTRA’s shoulders. With this, went also the responsibility of building a detailed framework for telecommunication licensing – to authorise telecom operators and services – in Egypt. The NTRA licensing decisions are based on a policy of non-discrimination between operators; they take the costs of providing a service into account and allow reasonable service provider profit margins. The NTRA also sets standards for the different telecom services and monitors compliance with the standards and the quality of service. It adheres to the implementation of approved engineering practices for the different types of telecom equipment that are authorised for use in Egypt. In addition, the Regulatory Authority verifies and reviews customer complaints. The NTRA is working to define telecom market indicators and set benchmarks for each service, be it for mobile or any other service. The current micro-indicators are used as a base line for standards for the implementation of new services. The NTRA also manages the allocation of the frequency spectrum, in accordance with the rules and recommendations of the International Telecommunication Union, to ensure its best utilisation The NTRA has established special modes of communication to interact with the public. This is done through the contact centre established by the authority to receive complaints and inquiries and try to resolve any issues or conflicts. The contact centre relies on market survey studies conducted to set the benchmark mechanisms used to measure customer satisfaction. The Telecom Act gave the NTRA the mandate to act independently to carry out its responsibilities efficiently. It now has the right to set standards for performance, either from a technical or infrastructure perspective, of the services provided by the operators. The NTRA develops regimes for communications equipment, conformity, assessment and type approval and ensures conformity with the standards set. The Act also gave the NTRA jurisdiction to manage and license the frequency spectrum, protect consumer and public interests and set-up tariff caps. Recently, it was granted the right to impose sanctions, including fines and penalties and was freed from bureaucratic red tape and procedures. Moreover, it became entrusted with an independent financial strategy to fund service requirements. The NTRA’s decentralised environment, its independent entities with their mandates to activate the Authority’s objectives and very well defined business procedures that interlink the various departments, enable the Authority to perform at highest standards. The NTRA has played a major role in leading Egypt upon the right path, helping it become a part of the global market for the exportation of telecommunication technology. On NTRA’s achievement list is a dramatic increase in the number of licences issued and the finalising of an inter-connection agreement between service providers (mobile – Internet – V-Sat – GMPCS). The Authority, in full cooperation with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology – the MCIT, took giant leaps implementing Internet service for the price of the phone call and stimulating the upgrading of the National Telephone Network to provide the service without interruption. The NTRA contributed to the establishment of the first phase of the Radio Frequency Management and Monitoring project, revising and establishing a national frequency allocation plan for Egypt, hence, enabling the country to issue 2,300 frequency licenses last year. Priority was given to issuing an environmental safety and health protocol for macro and micro model stations and installations and performing the required tests to ensure the proper implementation of the protocol. The NTRA’s achievements have led Egypt to a boom in IT and telecommunication advancement; they have given the country’s human resources a competitive edge which created an environment conducive to winning consumer confidence and increasing foreign investments.