Qatar

The laws governing the ICT sector:

The law establishing fixed line incumbent Qatar Public Telecommunications Corporation/Qtel (now Ooredoo) was passed in 1987 (Law 13 of 1987), however it was not until 2004 that any formal legislation was put in place to govern the ICT sector in Qatar.

Decree Law No. 36 of 2004 established the Supreme Council for Communication and Information Technology (known as ictQATAR). The object of ictQATAR is to regulate the two sectors of communication and information technology. ictQATAR, Qatar’s independent and fully autonomous telecoms regulator, was created as the nation’s ICT policy-making and regulatory body. Two years later, the Telecommunications Law of the State of Qatar was adopted under Decree Law No. 34 of 2006 (the Telecoms Law).

The role of the regulator:

Under Decree Law No. 36 of 2004, ictQATAR’s powers include (but are not limited to) the power to regulate the ICT sector, to develop the strategic national vision in respect of the sector and to make and implement policies relating to the sector. In addition to the responsibilities outlined in Decree Law No. 36 of 2004, Article 2 of the Telecoms Law provides further objectives which ictQATAR is entrusted to achieve. These include promoting and encouraging competition, encouraging the introduction of advanced and innovative information and telecommunications technologies, promoting consumer protection and encouraging sustainable investment in the sector.

ictQATAR, as regulator of the ICT sector, was established to regulate and encourage the use of ICT technologies. Broadly, its responsibilities include drafting legislation and regulations and defining and developing Qatar’s ICT vision and strategy.

Licensing:

Under Article 5 of Decree Law No. 36 of 2004, ictQATAR is responsible for setting the conditions and standards for licensing of communication and information technology services and for use of frequencies, and for issuing such licences.  The Telecoms Law further tasked ictQATAR with establishing a fair, objective and transparent licensing regime for service providers. The Board of ictQATAR has the power and authority to grant, amend, renew, suspend and revoke individual licences (and to determine the procedures and fees necessary for issuing such licences). It is unlawful for any person to engage in the provision of telecommunications services without a licence.

Article 4 of the Telecoms Law ended the concession granted to Qtel/Ooredoo and paved the way for liberalisation of the communications market. Under this law, ictQATAR was authorised to begin licensing alternative operators to compete with state incumbent, Qtel.

Under the current licensing framework in Qatar, pursuant to the Telecoms Law, ictQATAR may issue both individual and class licences for telecommunications services and related activities. ictQATAR has issued individual licences for specific telecommunications services such as public fixed and mobile networks and services and (according to ictQATAR’s Regulatory Strategy 2013-2016), it is understood that a number of class licences have also been issued.

In 2007, ictQATAR granted two individual licences to Qtel to provide public fixed and public mobile telecommunications networks and services. In March 2007, ictQATAR announced that it would begin the liberalisation process and open its telecommunications market to competition. ictQATAR launched a consultation for interested operators and stakeholders prior to a second mobile licence being put up for bid. The licence was awarded to Vodafone Qatar. In 2008, a second process was launched for the award of a licence to own and operate a fixed telecoms network and provide public fixed telecoms services. The concession was subsequently awarded to Vodafone Qatar.

Further, ictQATAR has recently issued three individual licences to QSAT Communication, RigNetQatar and Harris Salam for the provision of VSAT networks and services to closed user groups; a licence for the provision of wholesale fixed telecommunications networks to United Development Company and a licence for the provision of passive fixed telecommunications networks to Q.NBN.

In order to operate a public fixed or mobile telecommunications network, a licence (currently issued by ictQATAR on a limited basis), is a requisite. In respect of the award of further licences, it is understood that ictQATAR will issue individual licences on a case by case basis, having undertaken market studies which establish that further liberalisation is required and will benefit consumers and the economy without incurring negative effect on existing sector investment. In April 2103, ictQATAR issued a strategy document indicating its intention to attract additional operators to the market, at either the infrastructure or service level. Licences are expected to be issued on a limited basis through a competitive bidding process.

ictQATAR also has the power to issue authorisations or approvals for specific telecommunications related activities or services and the use or operation of radio equipment, technologies or frequencies. Examples of related activities include the provision of internet café services, telecommunications construction activities, purchasing or selling GSM phones, operating aircraft or ship stations, operating amateur radio equipment, operating private VSAT networks and the use of radio spectrum. If a party wishes to engage in such activities, they must first apply to ictQATAR in person for an authorisation (currently issued by ictQATAR on an unlimited basis in all cases except use of radio spectrum) and go through an administrative process. It is indicated that the process is likely to take up to ten days to complete.

In January 2009, ictQATAR recognised that the rapid pace of technological innovation, combined with the convergence of information and communications technologies, required a review of licensing regimes in the ICT sector. As such, it launched a public consultation on its proposed licensing framework for the telecoms sector, the aim being to increase the transparency of the licensing process, reduce barriers to entry, and promote technological neutrality.