Improving telecom services in Tunisia and Mauritania
To ensure universal access to affordable telecommunications services, Tunisian and Mauritanian officials engaged in an exchange with Turkey on ways to reform and liberalize their telecom sectors, with an emphasis on broadband. They learned how to open up telecom markets to competition, align regulatory frameworks to EU standards, and balance investment incentives with protecting competition in fiber optic networks.
The Governments of Tunisia and Mauritania sought to increase competition in telecommunications to expand access to and reduce prices of telecom and broadband services, and raise the competitiveness of their information and communication technology (ICT) sectors. With support of the World Bank, Tunisian officials began to revise their ICT laws and regulations, and engaged in drafting a 2018 Digital Tunisia strategy. Mauritanian officials also took steps to develop a 2012-2016 ICT strategy and revise their legal and regulatory framework.
Both countries, however, lacked the capacity to design and implement policies and regulations supporting telecom liberalization, especially to foster broadband and ultra-fast broadband, ensure the interoperability of and open access to backbone fiber-optic networks, and boost usage of Internet domain names. Mauritania and Tunisia also faced challenges in ensuring open access to submarine fiber optic cables channeling international voice and data. Both countries were interested in learning from international and European Union (EU) practices.
Officials from these countries requested Bank assistance in organizing an exchange with Turkey, which had successfully liberalized its telecom sector in the 2000s. They were interested in how Turkey had opened its market to new providers, ensured open access to and interoperability of its broadband and ultrafast broadband infrastructure, and aligned its legal and regulatory framework to that of the EU Acquis – or the body of EU regulations and legislation.
The organizations participating in this exchange included Turkey’s Information and Communications Technology Authority (ICTA), Tunisia’s Ministry for ICT and Instance Nationale des Télécommunications (INT), and Mauritania’s Ministry for ICT and Regulatory Authority (ARE). The exchange had three phases:
- Study Tour to Turkey: From November 18-22, 2013, nine Tunisian and Mauritanian officials visited Turkey to discuss topics related to telecommunications liberalization, such as policy objectives, market analysis, legal and regulatory frameworks, and privatization. Participants also undertook site visits. After this tour, officials briefed country stakeholders on lessons, particularly related to Turkey’s approach to fiber, broadband wholesale offers, and Number Portability.
- Learning dialogues: Between December 2013 and March 2014, officials engaged in virtual dialogues to continue learning on specific subtopics, such as ways to enhance facility sharing and interconnection. Experts from ICTA and INT also provided comments on draft secondary legislation prepared by Mauritania on these key subtopics.
- Expert visit to Mauritania: From April 23 to 24, 2014, six officials from ICTA and five from INT visited Nouakchott to participate in workshops and field visits with about 60 officials from Mauritania’s ARE, Ministry for ICT, governmental agencies, operators, service providers, and civil society organizations. The workshops focused on facility sharing and rights of way, access to submarine landing stations, 3G and 4G licensing, and Internet domain name regulation.
The exchange increased the capacity of Tunisian and Mauritanian officials to liberalize their telecom markets, with the aims of ensuring universal and affordable telecom and broadband services:
- Participants increased their skills to design and implement reforms to
- upgrade legal frameworks to align to EU best practices
- liberalize telecom markets, particularly to allow new companies access to fiber optic infrastructure and excess fiber optic capacity, and stimulate competition by supporting independent Internet Service Providers
- improve access to international fiber optic cables at submarine landing stations
- foster facility-sharing
- design 3G and 4G licensing schemes
- boost Internet domain name usage.
- Officials enhanced long-term cooperation and networking. After the exchange, representatives from Turkey’s ICTA, Mauritania’s ARE, and Tunisia’s INT signed cooperation agreements to deepen knowledge sharing. Nouredine Mohamedou, an official from Mauritania’s ARE, suggested that “the exchange was a valuable opportunity to be in touch with potential partners. . .I intend to maintain relationships. . .with Tunisia and Turkish colleagues.”
According to another Mauritanian participant “the sharing of experiences was very useful. . .it helped me to identify the success factors and bottlenecks for developing broadband and ultra-fast broadband bandwidth, which will undoubtedly help me put in place a policy promoting this development.”
- It is important to select exchange participants who have influence over the extent and pace of reform in home countries.
- The agenda of an exchange must be carefully tailored to meet the learning needs of participants, or there is a risk of wasting resources.
- In an exchange, it may be useful to strategically combine resource-intensive instruments (e.g., a study tour) to influence senior or influential policymakers, with less expensive activities (i.e., virtual dialogues) to engage broader stakeholders.
- Presentations and discussions should be complemented by site visits, which can provide hands-on exposure to how reforms have produced impact on the ground.
- It is crucial to select interpreters with strong language skills, as interpretation issues can impede learning and engender frustration among participants.
Bank staff brokered this exchange based on their international project experiences and in connection to broader Bank assistance programs in Tunisia and Mauritania. Bank staff used a grant of US$42,500 from the South-South Experience Exchange Facility (SEETF) to fund the travel and accommodations of participants in the study tour to Turkey and in the expert visit to Mauritania. Bank staff captured knowledge gained in this exchange through summary reports available in English and French and blogs available in Turkish, English and French.
The key knowledge providing agency was Turkey’s Information and Communications Technology Authority (ICTA), which is the principal telecom regulator responsible for ensuring competition, streamlining regulations, and promoting research and development. ICTA staff understood the importance of helping to build the capacity of developing countries, and had previously supported training seminars on telecom topics. Within the framework of ICTA’s bilateral cooperation activities, ICTA had signed 19 MoUs with countries to support knowledge sharing.
Another key agency providing knowledge was Tunisia’s Instance Nationale de Telecommunications (INT), the country’s principal telecom regulator. This exchange led to the first MoU between INT and ARE.
Over the longer-term, lessons from the exchange are expected to help Tunisia and Mauritania to promote reforms to foster broadband development, as well as raise the competitiveness of their ICT industries. As noted, Mauritania’s secondary legislation on interconnection and facility sharing benefitted from comments from Turkish and Tunisian experts.
In the framework of the bilateral agreements, Turkey’s ICTA has invited Mauritanian officials to training seminars, and may partner with the World Bank to promote knowledge exchange in telecom liberalization, particularly with countries in Africa and in Central Asia. Tunisia’s INT is also expected to support Mauritanian officials in carrying out liberalization of Internet domain names.
The officials who participated from Tunisia and Mauritania came from the following agencies:
- Ministère des Technologies de l’Information et de la Communication
- Instance Nationale de Télécommunications
- Ministère de l’Emploi, de la Formation Professionnelle et des Technologies de l’information et de la Communication
- Autorité de Régulation
The workshops in Nouakchott were also open to broader Mauritanian stakeholders, including Mauritania’s telecoms operators (Mauritel, Mattel, Chinguitel), country utilities with excess fiber capacity (La Société Mauritanienne d'Electricité, and the Projet de Connectivité Nationale), private ICT companies, and civil society. World Bank staff participated to the study tour in Turkey and the expert visit in Mauritania, and moderated the workshops.