KUWAIT/DUBAI, March 6 (Reuters) - Kuwait’s parliament has approved the first reading of a bill to create the country’s first independent telecoms watchdog, according to the assembly’s website, a move that could lead to further liberalisation of the sector.
The Ministry of Communications is the de facto regulator in the absence of a separate watchdog and also ultimately owns and operates the country’s fixed-line infrastructure.
Market participants have complained that those responsibilities represent a conflict of interest and that state control of the fixed network has left Kuwait lagging behind its Gulf peers in terms of internet connectivity.
Kuwait is the only Gulf Arab country without a telecom regulator. The establishment of a watchdog has been discussed over the past decade without any result.
But on Wednesday, 38 members of parliament voted to approve the first reading of a bill to establish a telecoms and information technology regulator, while two MPs abstained, a statement on the parliament’s website said.
In a second statement, parliament speaker Marzouq al-Ghanim said he hoped a second and final reading of the bill would be passed at parliament’s next hearing, which is scheduled for Tuesday.
If a telecom regulator is created it may show a desire by the government to revive plans to privatise the fixed network, something which has been under consideration for more than 20 years.
Kuwait relies largely on ageing copper networks for fixed telecoms services and has fallen behind the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which have invested heavily in fibre-to-the-home.
As of July 2012, Kuwait’s internet connection speed was a little over a third of the UAE‘s, according to Business Monitor International.
Many Kuwait residents have opted for mobile broadband instead, which is provided by the three mobile operators, Zain , Saudi Telecom Co affiliate Viva and Wataniya, a subsidiary Qatar’s Ooredoo. (Reporting Sylvia Westall in Kuwait and Matt Smith in Dubai; writing by Matt Smith. Editing by Jane Merriman)