Q&A with Mohammed Ali Al-Mannai
This month, Policy World questions Mohammed Ali Al-Mannai, President of Communications Regulatory Authority of Qatar (CRA)
Q. The Authority (CRA) has recently finalized the National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP), looking at proposed spectrum usage both in current sectors and making plans for technologies that are still not quite developed. This seems to have been a mammoth task. How did you go about information gathering? In drawing up the NFAP, what sorts of considerations did you have to balance?
A. The fact is, demand for radio spectrum in Qatar is high and growing every day, particularly because many advanced technologies require new radio spectrum alongside existing technologies. In fact, the challenge among regulators worldwide is to find enough spectrum for future radio applications and next-generation networks such as 5G.
Indeed, the NFAP is an important achievement. Radio spectrum usage is a scarce recourse that ultimately impacts the development in many sectors so careful management of this resource is critical. The plan was finalized taking into consideration the current and future requirements of various sectors and in consultation with all the relevant industry stakeholders and reviewed by the Qatar National Spectrum Coordination Committee (QNSCC). A key element of the plan is the updated National Frequency Allocation Table (NFAT), which is a comprehensive frequency allocation document that provides a transparent, non-discriminatory and predictable approach to spectrum management and reserves appropriate spectrum for future innovative technologies.
I have ensured that the plan integrates planning of new mobile broadband technologies, public protection & disaster relief measures, unmanned aircraft systems, global flight tracking, maritime safety, amateur radio, and other areas of focus at the International Telecommunication Union’s World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15). This leverages the international benchmarks and industry standards.
Moreover, CRA engaged with all relevant public and private sector entities to take into consideration their plans before finalising this document and that really helped us benchmark it with international radio regulations.
Q. When you took office some 18 months ago, you said that you wanted the CRA to be transparent in its dealings and operations, and to ensure independence. The CRA was set up as an independent regulatory authority. What are the learnings you would offer to others in a similar transition stage?
A. I strongly believe that the establishment of CRA as an independent regulatory authority underscores the leadership of Qatar’s commitment to encouraging competition and promoting consistency, certainty, transparency, and flexibility across the regulatory framework.
CRA is contributing to Qatar’s transition to becoming a smart, digitally connected nation with a growing, diversified economy and to ensuring that individuals, businesses, and government have access to a broad range of innovative and reasonably priced communications services. Qatar National Vision 2030 provides a solid foundation for CRA’s strategies and management of scarce resources. By aligning the CRA goals with national priorities, we will continue to be a big player in achieving the national vision.
Just to give you an example, CRA’s three-year regulatory strategy (2013-2016) sought to improve the competitive environment as well as the clarity and predictability of the regulatory framework, while safeguarding the interests of consumers. In addition, the CRA prioritised the efficient management of public resources and support for Qatar’s transition to a connected digital economy. We have made great strides towards these goals and I consider it our big achievement. But CRA will continue to build on the strong momentum we have built in the last few years and I will personally ensure this momentum continues to open doors for innovations and new business models in the market.
My aim is to ensure that all future regulations ensure that all investments in the sector complement each other, security concerns are addressed and customers benefit. And most importantly, CRA shall continue to be consistent and transparent in the way it regulates the sectors within its mandate.
I also want to mention the postal sector and access to digital media. These are new mandates given to CRA and we are already working on assessing the sector’s dynamics and how to balance policies and regulations taking into consideration their impacts on service providers, OTTs, platforms or applications. I am continually engaging with other regulators in the region to foster the development of a buoyant, smart economy. To this end TMDF is an excellent platform for us to exchange ideas in this area.
Q. A key part of your remit is, you have said consistently, to develop ‘a comprehensive competition policy that will detail market behaviours and you will look at anti-competitive behaviour in some detail. What have been the challenges and how much more work is there for the CRA to do?
A. Qatar remains a small market but the telecom sector continues to expand very quickly and has been identified as a key enabler of Qatar economic diversification outside of oil and gas. Accordingly, competition will always be an issue. We shall use competition as a means to foster growth and innovation for everyone’s benefit.
2015 was dedicated to developing a comprehensive competition framework, expanding the provisions of Telecom law and By-Law to clarify rights and obligations, the development of a Competition Policy, which lays out in detailed (in an Explanatory handbook) clear processes, codes of behaviour, market definitions and dominance designation. The objective was to clarify the applicable framework, and make it consistent and predictable for all stakeholders.
2016 was dedicated to ‘socializing’ this framework, so that all stakeholders would understand its implications. In 2017, CRA is engaged in improving understanding of competition and training up CRA staff. To that end, CRA has developed an innovative training platform to bring everyone up to speed with the new regulations as quickly as possible. Service providers also participated in a workshop to improve their respective behaviours. CRA plans to continue the ‘socialization’ of the benefits of competition through additional workshops with relevant stakeholder groups. Indeed, CRA is actively developing an implementation plan for competition policy that focuses on areas where competition would have the greatest impact on growth and innovation.
Q. An example of the way that the CRA reaches out to develop the more societal aspects of its remit, has been the drive to encourage schools to adopt a bespoke url (“. sch.qa”) to distinguish it from other Qatari-language urls. Why is this deemed to be important?
A. CRA aims to be an enabler for the development of a digital society and the postal sector for the social and economic benefit of Qatar, and I have always said that we intend to do this through a forward looking, transparent and consistent regulatory framework. One important element of this is to encourage increased uptake of Qatari domain names by local businesses and institutions. The more home-grown businesses are online using unique Qatari domain names, the better the visibility for the nation in the global market. It’s a win win for all.
As such we have initiated numerous initiatives to achieve this by reaching out to targeted segments of the Qatar’s residents – small business, educational institutions, organizations and individuals.
CRA has also initiated a drive to increase the number of local web solution providers that sign up as accredited domain name registrars with the Domains Registry, which manages the registration process following international standards, set by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Significant time and resources have been invested in this area not only for the top level domain names but also, and specifically, second-level “.qa” addresses, such as “.com.qa” - reserved for companies registered in Qatar, “.net.qa” - reserved for IT-related companies registered in Qatar, and “.name.qa” - reserved for Qatari citizens and residents. In fact, these second-level “.qa” domains account for more than 50% of total domains registered locally. This is a good opportunity as only local-based registrars are allowed special rights of distribution of these zone domain extensions.
Q. The next IIC event is the Telecommunications and Digital Media Forum in Doha, Qatar, hosted by the CRA. The CRA and its predecessors have long been involved with the IIC - what particular value does your experience with the IIC bring to your work and that of your colleagues?
A. I am delighted that CRA is able to host IIC’s TDMF 2017 here in Doha and our partnership with IIC has been hugely beneficial. Our job is to foster sustainable competition by promoting a fair market place and improve customer experience through the ubiquitous availability of smart, innovative and high quality services. To this end, we must build our institutional capabilities by developing our staff, expertise and resources. So what better platform than TDMF to exchange insights and hear from industry leaders who have been in the field for many years about how they tackled the various challenges facing the ICT sector.
CRA is still in its infancy, but we have already made significant strides in how we regulate the sectors in a progressive, global and transparent manner. I am pleased to say that we have excellent coordination and support from regional regulators, and through TDMF we look forward to working with our international counterparts.
- Monday, 20 February 2017