Referring to the Brunei Times article “Brunei telco rates highest in ASEAN” published on April 13th, 2013 by Jennee Rubrico, the Authority for Info-communications Technology Industry of Brunei Darussalam (AITI) would like to express our appreciation to the author for highlighting this matter, particularly on issues of rates and quality of services.
In response to the said article, AITI would like to share some explanations and measures that have been and are currently undertaken by the relevant authorities to address the said issues.
Availability, Accessibility, Affordability and Choices have always been key policy components in the provision of telecommunication network and services in Brunei. These factors are crucial to drive usage and national competitiveness. In addition, these are also among the key drivers in improving the peoples’ quality of life and attain our visions towards a Sophisticated and Smart Society as spelt out in the Ministry of Communications Strategic Plan 2008 – 2017.
AITI would like to address some of the challenges which Brunei faces. Typically, investment in telecommunication network infrastructures, services and human capacity does not come cheap, especially for countries with small market size like Brunei. Most of the countries mentioned in The Brunei Times’ article, in comparison to Brunei, have larger population which equate to economies of scale in their pricing. Thus, the higher investment per user ratio is one of the factors contributing to higher charges. Despite that, the Government of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam will continue to invest, where appropriate, in the provision of telecommunication infrastructures and services to meet the needs and expectations from various stakeholders.
A good example would be the Titah of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam on 15th July 2012 where a budget of B$230million was consented under the National Development Plan (RKN) 2012 – 2017 for the Ministry of Communications to implement a nationwide broadband initiative through Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH). With such budget allocation, high speed broadband connectivity will be enjoyed by all users in Brunei Darussalam. Such connectivity will be deployed through a mix of technologies, combining both wired and wireless. This deployment requires thorough planning and considerations. During these planning, the Ministry of Communications and AITI has closely referred to regional and international best practices in terms of implementation and industry restructuring models. These models will be customized to our local environment and market size. At the end of the 5 year roll-out period, this nationwide deployment will address the following issues:-
i. Accessibility, where high speed broadband will be available nationwide;
ii. Quality of services, where users will have choices of services to choose from and to experience with high quality broadband connectivity;
iii. Affordability, where broadband services can be subscribed at a more affordable rate, hence increasing usage in Brunei Darussalam; and
iv. Industry and economic development as FTTH will spur spin offs such as growth in creative, multimedia and innovative content industry, various skills enhancement, new job creations for the local and foreign direct investment.
On the mobile front, AITI is ready to award 4G licenses in the 1800 MHz spectrum band to the service providers as early as May 2013. Mobile service providers can then proceed to deploy 4G network infrastructure and offer commercial 4G services, hopefully, within 6 to 12 months. Consumers will see improvement in mobile broadband speed when commercial 4G services are made readily available.
The introduction of two mobile broadband service providers into the market i.e. DST Communications Sdn Bhd (DST) and B-Mobile Communications Sdn Bhd (B-Mobile) is an important testimony in our desire to nurture competitiveness and efficiency in the telecommunication sector. Since the introduction of the two service providers, we have witnessed competitive pricing and an array of mobile data and internet services being offered enthusiastically by the two service providers. DST and B-Mobile have also offered alternatives, such as mobile broadband, to broadband offerings by the incumbent fixed line telecommunication provider, Telekom Brunei Bhd (TelBru).
The three service providers (TelBru, DST and B-Mobile) are regulated by AITI. While regulating the retail charges of the three service providers, AITI needs to balance the commercial bottom line of the service providers against the larger public interest as well as the overarching goal of national economic growth. In this aspect, AITI has awarded a Tariff Regulation Framework Consultancy Service to Detecon Asia Pacific Ltd on 24 April 2013. Recognising that price regulation for telecommunication network is not always straight forward, as there are multiple services and significant cost components to assess, the consultancy project will enable AITI to revise and develop a price regulation framework that will promote the availability, affordability and choices of telecoms and broadcasting services for consumers in Brunei while still allowing healthy profit and growth of the market players.
Another mechanism that AITI has put in place is the Quality of Service (QoS) Framework for Telecommunication Services. A featured article of this framework was published in the daily newspapers on 20 April 2013. The intent of the framework is to impose a satisfactory level of telecommunication services for subscribers ranging from coverage, call quality, customer services etc. The QoS Framework was heavily consulted with TelBru, DST and B-Mobile over a one-year period to ensure that the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as prescribed by AITI are reasonable and practical. AITI has allowed the three service providers a one-year grace period to improve and enhance their infrastructures and backend systems when the QoS Framework was published to TelBru, DST and B-Mobile in October 2012. Once the grace period is over by October 2013, it is mandatory for TelBru, DST and B-Mobile to comply with the QoS Framework. Failure to comply will be a breach under the Telecommunications Order 2001 and a financial penalty can be imposed to the errant service provider.
The Ministry of Communications and AITI remain committed to ensure quality telecommunication services are affordable and available in Brunei Darussalam. Policies and frameworks will continue to be reviewed and updated to provide a conducive environment for these objectives to be met.