ABU DHABI // The Federal National Council has urged the Government to force telecommunications companies to provide cheaper and more efficient services. In a session that included a debate on the policies of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), some council members said that four years after breaking the Etisalat monopoly in the UAE market, the services provided by the two operators, Etisalat and du, still did not meet consumers' demands.
"Four years after a company entered the market, we still have no sign of competition," said Fatima Ghanem al Marri, a member from Dubai. "How long are we going to wait before we reach a competitive market?" She said that one sign that free competition was not in place was that calls still cost significantly more than those in other countries. "We really feel that we're being drained, whether by the type of services or prices," she said. Making an international phone call in Germany would be cheaper by 90 per cent than making the same call in the UAE, said Ms al Marri.
She was quoting an FNC committee report on the issue that was presented at yesterday's meeting. The FNC member who helped to write the report said that the two operators said that the competition was not "fair". Ms al Marri said both companies complained that some of their proposals to market certain services or products had been denied by TRA. "The authority made all suitable measures to introduce competition to the telecommunications sector," said Mohammed Nasser al Ghanim, the director general of the TRA.
He added that the authority had registered between 20 and 70 per cent price falls in the costs of international phone calls since competition was introduced. "Land phones still need a lot of work because Etisalat still monopolise the infrastructure of land communications," said Mr al Ghanim. In January, the TRA announced that it had started an internal study analysing the UAE's market to decide whether certain segments, such as local telephone calls, can be deregulated and subject to market forces.
The regulator is also putting the final touches on introducing a scheme to allow mobile users to change their provider without having to purchase a new number. Last week, the TRA said it had authorised voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) phone calls, but with a caveat that existing telecoms licence holders - Etisalat and du - can offer the service. VoIP applications, such as Skype, can offer phone calls at a rate that is often at a steep discount compared to traditional operators.
The FNC report also blamed the TRA for failing to prevent the use of proxy software that allows people to bypass blocks on hundreds of websites classified as "forbidden". "There is also some software that allows downloading things without going through the filtering process," said Sultan bin Hussein, a member from Umm al Qaiwain. "Peer-to-peer software is not being blocked," he said. "We notice the effect of this problem in the crimes committed by children and violence among the youth. All of these crimes are influenced by the internet."
Mr al Ghanim said it was not possible to block all "forbidden sites". "Companies that offer peer-to-peer services change their websites and there are thousands of them that keep changing," he said. firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by David George-Cosh