ABU DHABI // Regulators will order Etisalat to share its infrastructure with du to give consumers a choice of broadband service provider.
The new move follows three years of deadlock in which Etisalat has blocked proposals by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to improve competition, transparency and services provided to customers.
The dispute is over “bitstream access”, the technology with which an internet service provider leases out its infrastructure so multiple operators can use it.
Etisalat’s latest public response in the consultation process, published by the TRA this week, is: “Etisalat believes that bitstream access interconnection at the local level should not be imposed.”
Du responded with: “Etisalat has not provided any justification to its argument.”
The TRA will now prepare a “determination” document to implement its recommendations. “The TRA will impose a requirement to offer bitstream access products for both residential and business markets,” it said.
Experts welcomed the news. “Bitstream access would give du access to all Etisalat customers across the UAE, using Etisalat’s network at an agreed wholesale price for bandwidth, which the TRA would probably control,” said Alexander McNabb, a technology author.
“It would result in brilliant price competition and richer services, be good for the consumer and blow the UAE market wide open for du.”
Mr McNabb said: “This will ultimately benefit consumers and businesses here in the UAE as we see more open competition and therefore better value from the UAE’s telecom providers.
“Could progress be faster? Sure, but the important thing is that it’s taking place at all. I’m optimistic we’ll all see the benefits of this consultation moving forward.”
The TRA’s aims were highlighted in a consultation document that it put to the two providers last year. The document, which is publicly available on the TRA’s website, focused on competition, transparency and the services provided to customers.
Etisalat rejected the proposals, and asked the TRA to undertake a second round of the consultation.
In its conclusion. the TRA said: “The bitstream remedies in the consultation were proposed with a goal of facilitating an effective implementation of wholesale bitstream products, which is a key factor for the development of effective competition in the fixed broadband access markets.”
It will now prepare a “determination” document designed to implement its recommendations in a number of phases, starting with bitstreaming.
The TRA’s recommendations were made to encourage a more competitive environment, which could drive down prices for internet users.
With high internet prices across the country, and a lack of choice, the TRA stated in the original consultation that discussions between the two operators on the matter had been progressing.
It said: “The TRA considers that such a product would enable both du and Etisalat to provide broadband services at the retail level within the UAE. As a consequence, the TRA believes that bitstream services are a suitable remedy.”
Discussions now seem to have ground to a halt, despite the capability for shared use of infrastructure being in place.
In July 2011, the TRA said: “In order to introduce nationwide competition in fixed-line telecommunications services, the TRA has announced today that Etisalat and du are working together to bring choice for consumers and businesses in their selection of fixed telecommunications service providers.
“Business and residential customers in the UAE will soon have the ability to choose between operators for their fixed-line voice and broadband services.”
The situation may seem unfair for Etisalat, being the largest stakeholder in the country, but under models tried elsewhere its rival would have to pay a significant fee to be able to use its infrastructure.
Etisalat and du refused to comment yesterday.
The consultation documents can be viewed at www.tra.gov.ae/consultations.php