The World Bank has called upon governments in the MENA region to do more to open up broadband markets to competition, to encourage uptake and increase the economic benefits to countries in the region.
According to the report, ‘Broadband Networks in the Middle East and North Africa’, which was presented in the UAE earlier this month, lack of proper competition means that the MENA region lags behind in terms of connectivity prices, mobile and fixed broadband penetration, and local content.
Low-cost broadband infrastructure has benefits to economies, with direct contributions to a country’s productivity, competitiveness, ability to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), ability to diversify away from reliance on natural resource sectors, along with job creation and skills development.
While these benefits have been proven in many regions around the world, the report notes that only Bahrain and Jordan have implemented a policy of full liberalisation in telecommunications. The report authors stressed the need for reform in the rest of the region, in order for countries to fully leverage the benefits and to leapfrog existing economies in economic development.
“To reap these benefits, MENA countries should fully open up their broadband markets to competition. The gap between MENA and regions with higher broadband diffusion is mainly a gap in market structure, competition, and governance. The creation and strengthening of open markets for broadband infrastructure, networks, services, and digital content is a top priority,” the authors wrote.
“A commitment to open markets means enforcing a deep regulatory reform, introducing measures to strengthen competition, eliminating monopolies, licensing more operators, tackling dominant positions, and lowering explicit and regulatory barriers to entry.”
To tackle the shortfall in infrastructure, the report suggests that countries should look to energy and transport utilities with extensive but underutilized fibre optic networks, which can be leveraged to strengthen domestic and international connectivity to increase the delivery of broadband. Authorities should also look to address the demand for connectivity from growing, youthful populations with innovative modes of infrastructure supply. Thirdly, regulatory frameworks need to be developed that can allow regional capital to fund a quick expansion of broadband networks.