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13 Nov 2007

Fiji Telecom sector now open to all: Govt

Telecom sector now open to all: Govt

Thursday November 08, 2007

Fiji’s telecommunications sector is now deregulated.

Interim Minister for Commerce, Industry, Investment and Communications Taito Waradi confirmed this today.

He said the Telecommunications Bill (that provides for the deregulation of Fiji's monopolised telecom sector) is now in place “as per the Cabinet decision on Tuesday”.

“The 1989 decree is now repealed. This new bill now replaces (the old one) which for the last 18 years locked us into exclusivity. We are now operating in a deregulated environment. There is no more (telecom) monopoly in Fiji,” Waradi said.

Waradi says there are 80 parts to the Act, 79 of which becomes operational immediately.

The first part is the setting up of the Telecom Board Authority of Fiji that will implement the act and regulate the industry, says Waradi.

“It has to be established first and the other parts will be progressively implemented as we go along.”

Waradi said the necessity to promulgate section 1-79 of the bill is now priority as it will engender semblance of transparency, predictability and certainty with regard to fundamental sectoral investment, development, legal and regulatory aspects.

The minister says that everyone will benefit from the deregulation of the industry – from the business community right to the villager in the interior.

“It has been a long road for us – the whole process started some 10 years ago,” he pointed out.

Regarding compensation for the telecommunication operators in exchange for the removal of their exclusive licences, Waradi says that section 80, that deals with the removal of exclusivity would be effected at a later date.

He says mediation talks with the telecom operators are starting next week Friday over three days.

“As the promulgation of the Bill will effectively end the currency of the exclusive privileges granted to TFL and FINTEL, an agreement has been reached between Government and the industry to enter into negotiations on the 7 years remaining of the exclusivity licence.”

Fiji’s telecom market, segregated into international, domestic and mobile, is currently monopolised by Amalgamated Telecom Holdings Ltd.

ATH acting chief executive officer Tomasi Vakatora says he is not aware of the bill being promulgated. He says he reserves his comment and will study the minister’s statement and then give a more informed response.

“But I can confirm that mediation talks start next week. We are now fully prepared for that. We are liaising with all our advisors and we are making all the necessary preparations for that mediation.”

According to Waradi, there is a general agreement that compensation should be non cash. He says that immediately after that the licences will be issued.

Vakatora says he does not know whether there will be any immediate outcome from that mediation process.

“We are going in with a positive mind and we would like to see some resolution so that we can move forward. Until we are engaged in all that then we will find out whether we can move forward.

“But we would like to move forward. There is too much uncertainty that we want to remove.”

Vakatora says they would have wanted the promulgation of the bill to come in after the mediation.

Waradi says the talks will be mediated independently by a World Bank expert and is expected to conclude no later than November 20.

The country's telecom industry is made up primarily of three major monopolies that are all currently protected through exclusivity licences.

Telecom Fiji Ltd has the exclusive licence to provide domestic voice and data services; Vodafone Fiji Ltd is the sole provider of mobile services; and Fiji International Telecommunications Ltd (FINTEL) has the monopoly on the supply of international voice and data services.

Early this year, Waradi had hinted that the telecommunication industry would be deregulated in the third quarter of this year.


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