Communications Development in Saudi Arabia

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HE Dr Abdulrahman Al-Jafary, Governor of the Communications and Information Technology Commission in Saudi Arabia reviews the range of challenges and tasks facing the communications regulator

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Communications Development in Saudi Arabia

  1. 1. Keynote speech of ,H.E. Dr Abdulrahman Al-Jafary Governor of the Communications and Information (Technology Commission (CITC Kingdom of Saudi Arabia TELECOMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA FORUM International Institute of Communications Manama – Bahrain May 2009 5-6
  2. 2. Excellencies, Distinguished colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen I am delighted to be with you today at this important forum, which aims to shed light on one of the most important trends in communications and information technology sector. Broadband services will contribute to the development of the information society. In my speech, this morning, I will focus on regulatory aspects, as one of the main pillars enabling broadband network rollout and service offerings. Today, the world is experiencing a deep financial crisis, leading to a global economic slowdown, which is affecting all sectors of development. However, we are glad to note that the rapid development of ICT sector is continuing, making it one of the least affected by the global economic crisis. This is confirmed by the recently published reports the ITU and other organizations; in addition to the various published countries ICT indicators. The World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) has emphasized the importance of providing access to knowledge and information to all members of society. Many countries have included the right to access information in their national laws; because of its significant impact on the social and economic development. Accordingly many countries have evolved CITC Governor Speech May 2009 5 Page 2 of 8
  3. 3. ICT concepts, including their universal access and the universal service targets, to include access to the Internet at high speeds. ;Ladies and Gentlemen Aspirations and challenges shared by regulators in different countries include the timely rollout of broadband networks in urban and rural areas, availability of local content, quality of service, lower prices, the effective management of the scared resources, facility and infrastructure sharing, consumer protection, promotion of competition, and many others. I will briefly touch on some of these challenges from the perspective of the regulator in general and from the perspective of the Communications and Information Technology in Saudi Arabia in particular. But allow me first to briefly highlight some ICT related activities by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, represented by the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology as the policy maker and the CITC as the telecom regulator and IT promoter. Since its establishment in 2001, CITC has adopted a well planned gradual approach towards the full liberalization of the ICT sector and the promotion of fair competition in the market. Towards this end, CITC has completed several stages. It started by introducing completion in mobile communications. We currently CITC Governor Speech May 2009 5 Page 3 of 8
  4. 4. have three mobile operators, competing in providing various mobile services, including broadband mobile services. Mobile penetration has rapidly grown to reach over 120% of the population. In addition, competition was also introduced in data and VSAT services. The next major step was in 2007, when the CITC liberalized the fixed telecommunications market with the qualification of three new fixed operators. One of them has already completed the licensing procedures and started deploying his networks, and soon will launch commercial service. Furthermore, the CITC has issued licenses for the provision of a number of other services. The total number issued licenses reached 300 covering 18 different services. The CITC has adopted a “technology-neutral, service specific” approach. It plans to evolve its licensing regime in the future to that of “service neutrality” or unified licensing. As a result of these steps, ICT offerings and take up have grown rapidly in Saudi Arabia. For example, internet users have grown to reach 7.7 million users at the end of 2008, with a penetration of 31% of population. As for broadband, as the number of subscribers reached 1.3 million by the end of 2008 despite some constrains, most of which are beyond CITC control. CITC Governor Speech May 2009 5 Page 4 of 8
  5. 5. Distinguished participants, Most countries of the world are witnessing rapid growth of ICT services and adoption. Despite this, however, world indicators from different sources point to widening of the digital divide between developed and developing countries, especially with regard to internet and broadband penetration. The Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia have made significant progress in worldwide ranking based on key ICT metrics. But I have to emphasize, here, that the achieved progress is still far from our countries aspiration and potential. Therefore, CITC is currently analyzing these indicators and their components in order to enhance the positives, and reduce the negative aspects. Such critical analysis will be followed by regulatory decisions, actions and projects to bring about change, which will move the Kingdom to its right place among world countries. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah is keen to develop the ICT sector and to move the Kingdom towards the knowledge society. ,Ladies and Gentlemen There are a number of issues and challenges, which can be considered as timely topics for our discussion at this Forum. I believe it is important to talk about them. CITC Governor Speech May 2009 5 Page 5 of 8
  6. 6. The CITC is currently examining challenging issues such as: - The move towards unified licensing regime, the regulation of wholesale services, the treatment of VoIP service offering, and the MVNO licensing. - The development of a National Broadband Strategy, that matches best trends worldwide, takes in to account the national capabilities, and draw a clear road map to achieve specific targets in Broadband Penetration. In addition, the CITC is currently implementing Internet Development Strategy, which focuses on different issues such as the Saudi Domain (.sa), Filtering, and the National Internet Exchange. - The optimal and effective use of the scarce natural resources, especially the frequency spectrum. CITC has developed the National Frequency Plan (NFP) which is currently under implementation. The NFP aims to ensure the availability of frequencies for current and future needs. There is no doubt that this will require balanced and bold timely actions, including the utilization of extra spectrum made available as a result of the transition to digital TV transmission, as well as to encourage the use of the extra high frequencies, wherever possible. CITC Governor Speech May 2009 5 Page 6 of 8
  7. 7. - Limited Arabic and local content and language barriers pose formidable challenges on the use of Internet. Despite, the complexity of this subject and the diversity of concerned parties, I believe that regional cooperation in this area is necessary, and in particular the cooperation between the regulators in the Gulf and Arab Region. - The importance of e-business and e-transaction deployment, including the e-government and e- commerce services, and building of trust and security in these transactions. CITC is actively working on raising awareness and trust levels through a number of projects such as Saudi CERT and the development of anti-SPAM regulatory frameworks. The CITC is calling for more regional cooperation on this issue, in particular because many of the threats are done across borders. - The rollout of broadband networks in rural areas and outside the major cities, which requires huge investments over long term. This underscores the importance of participation of all parties in building fiber network infrastructure at the national level, while maintaining the competition in the provision of services. We are witnessing a growing interest in this subject, and at the highest levels of many countries. CITC encourages CITC Governor Speech May 2009 5 Page 7 of 8
  8. 8. operators to cooperate in building national optical fiber networks, and the rollout of related access networks, as will as to share such networks, locations towers and other networks components. The challenges that I have just indicated are not unique to Saudi Arabia, but the majority of them are facing all of us. Solutions may vary from one country to another, but certainly many of them require close cooperation at the regional level. This Forum provides a valuable opportunity to exchange opinions on these as well as other concerns that may be raised by other speakers, for the purpose of reaching common understanding, that can helps us in our migration to the Information Society in our own countries and bridging the digital divide with others. In conclusion, I would like to thank the International Institute of Communications and TRA of Bahrain for organizing this Forum, and for the kind invitation extended to me and to the CITC to contribute to it. Thank you. CITC Governor Speech May 2009 5 Page 8 of 8

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