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16 January 2018

Telecommunications Law Changes Give Indications of New Regulatory Regime

On 28 September 2017, the Bahrain Official Gazette published the changes to the Telecommunications Law that will be implemented whilst the provision of the fourth National Telecommunications Plan (the NTP4) are completed.

One of the objectives of NTP4 is a complete redrafting of the current Telecommunications Law and supporting legal framework, so it is safe to say that the current changes are just those that the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (the TRA) and other stakeholders believe are essential to enact those provisions whilst more wholesale changes are discussed.

It is clear that a number of the changes are aimed at facilitating the new access and interconnection regime that will be necessi- tated by the creation of the national broadband network (the NBN) and the legal and functional separation of the Bahrain Telecommunications Company. These changes refer both to the infrastructure access application process and the licensing regime that supports the creation of the NBN (by creating a new category of fixed telecommunications infrastructure network license).

One other notable amendment is the inclusion of a new provision that states that the “Prime Minister and Ministers” (presumably primarily the Minister for Transport and Telecommunications) shall have an increased role in enforcing the provisions of the Telecommunications Law “in their own sphere of competence”. There is not much further clarity given on what these areas are, or if there is an overlap with the enforcement powers of the TRA, but it seems that henceforth the regulation of the communications industry will be a hybrid regime of enforcement between the Bahrain government and the TRA.

As stated, there is no clarification in the Official Gazette publication as to what “sphere of competence” means in relation to enforcement of the Telecommunications Law. One must assume that the traditional enforcement powers of the TRA will continue to apply throughout the implementation of NTP4, and that it is in new regulatory areas that Ministerial overview is likely to be more prevalent. The most obvious example of such a potential area could be gleaned from the recent announcement by the Bahrain Economic Development Board and Amazon Web Services that Bahrain will be the home to at least three data centres to be constructed by 2019 aimed at fuelling the cloud computing industry and encouraging the Kingdom’s economic growth. It may be therefore that the changes to the enforcement regime could ultimately see a split in which government takes a more hands-on role in relation to the move towards a “big data” driven economy, with the TRA remaining as the industry watchdog in relation to more traditional areas of competition and consumer affairs.

Ultimately, until the new Law is published it will remain a matter of conjecture as to how the regulatory framework will be amended to take into account the objectives of NTP4 and the changing landscape of the Bahrain communications market., The recent publication however does offer insights as to the potential direction of travel.

This article was first published by Lexis Nexis in the MENA Business Law Review in the 4th quarter of 2017.


This article was written by Gareth Mills. For more information please contact Gareth on +973 17 133208 or at gareth.mills@crsblaw.com.

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