Salvation Govt secretive about mobile telecommunications; questions arise over Syriana operator

The Syriana company building in Sarmada, Idlib (Enab Baladi / Huda al-Kulaib)

The Syriana company building in Sarmada, Idlib (Enab Baladi / Huda al-Kulaib)

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Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa

The announcement by Syriana for Telecommunications operating in the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib that it was licensed to operate as a telecommunications carrier by the Syrian Salvation Government’s Department of Public Communications raised several questions about the details of the license it obtained on 23 May.

This has also opened the way for reflection on the objective of licensing a telecommunications company in an area where multiple telecommunication networks are operating on the one hand and the efforts that should instead be focused on the region’s lack of necessary basic services rather than improving the reality of telecommunications on the other hand.

Licensing conditions: “Only Syrians”

Syriana for Telecommunications has been operating in Idlib since August 2016. Prior to obtaining the license as a telecommunications carrier, its work was limited to providing the region with internet access solely via Wi-Fi service, as explained by the CEO of Syriana, Hussam Twelo.

Speaking to Enab Baladi, Twelo added that it is a private company that is not controlled by any government entity in the region but was recently licensed by the Salvation Government operating in Idlib after filing a license application and meeting the required conditions.

According to Twelo, the basic conditions imposed by the Salvation Government on the company to obtain the license as a carrier included that the establishment of the company and its employees and those working in its technical service departments should not be from outside Syria.

Twelo asserted that the Salvation Government did not charge any prior or post-license annual or monthly financial fees other than those he described as “regular” for granting the license.

No coverage in Aleppo countryside 

According to Twelo, the city of Idlib and its countryside will have coverage in the coming months.

He also said that the company seeks to deliver its services to the areas of control of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) in the countryside of Aleppo, stating that this has not been launched yet in light of the lack of serious negotiations so far with the “competent government authorities in control of those areas.”

Salvation Govt kept telecommunications law secret since 2019

More than ten days before the publication of the report, Enab Baladi approached the Salvation Government’s Public Relations Office with inquiries regarding the purpose of licensing the Syriana for Telecommunications company, the criteria it relied upon to approve the issuance of the work permit, and its vision for the future of the sector in the region. However, Enab Baladi received no reply until the time of publication.

In March 2019, the Salvation Government passed a law on the operation of the telecommunications sector without announcing it on its official website. However, the al-Jumhuriya website obtained a copy of it in December 2019, about nine months after it was put into action.

Under the said law, the General Communications Company was established. Its powers include establishing, operating, and managing public telecommunications networks, providing telecommunications services to users, and regulating and setting prices and fees for the telecommunication services provided to beneficiaries.

According to Article 18 of the law on licensing telecommunication networks, the license is granted by the head of the government’s decision that is based on a proposal submitted by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and the approval of the competent director.

The law requires the conclusion of an administrative contract containing the licensing requirements, in addition to any other conditions provided for in this law and the regulations issued thereunder or any exceptions approved by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, provided that the following points are clarified:

1- The licensee must pay the proceeds due to both the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and the General Communications Company for licenses, their duration, revenues for renewal, and lump-sum or periodic financial proceeds or revenues.

2- The licensee’s obligation to provide information and data related to the subject matter of the license requested by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority from time to time or periodically, and employees of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and the General Communications Company are competent to verify the authenticity of the information.

3- The licensee must comply with any instructions issued by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority or any of the higher authorities, including the terms of subscription contracts between the beneficiaries and the licensee.

4- The licensee’s obligation to provide the necessary financial insurance to refund the fees and deposits due to subscribers in the event of license cancellation.

5- The licensee undertakes to provide free emergency telecommunication services to beneficiaries according to the arrangements and limits set by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority in cooperation with the relevant authorities.

6- The licensee undertakes to provide equal and non-discriminatory service to its applicants or beneficiaries, except for cases of tolerance for operational, social, and humanitarian reasons.

7- The licensee’s obligation to pre-declare the prices of services and the methods of obtaining them.

8- Cooperation with all other license holders in order to facilitate the provision of services to beneficiaries.

9- The licensee’s obligation to provide the licensed service to its applicants within a reasonable period and to ensure that the entire area assigned to it is provided with the licensed services.

Turkish networks reach the region

According to the director of the al-Hassan Communications Center in the city of al-Dana, north of Idlib, Ahmed al-Bayoush, there are two communication networks in the Idlib region that provide internet services namely Syriana and the Turkish e-Lux.

Al-Bayoush confirmed to Enab Baladi that there is a demand among Idlib residents to subscribe to these two telecommunication networks.

The 33-year-old resident of Idlib, Mustafa al-Omar, told Enab Baladi that the Turkish e-Lux network provides internet access in all areas in northern Syria, as the network feeds from Turkish cell towers.

Al-Omar explained that reliance on Turkish networks ensures that the problem of renewing internet subscriptions in every new region to which he relocates is not contemplated, calling its services “acceptable.”

The region needs production investments, not service investments

At the end of last March, local social media pages circulated news that the opening of the first cellular communications company in Idlib, northern Syria, was “approaching.”

According to the image circulated, the company is called Syria Phone, without the identifiers of the Salvation Government’s General Communications Company publishing any details about the aforementioned company at that time.

According to what was circulated at the time, Syria Phone was affiliated with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Enab Baladi has not yet been able to verify this.

The Salvation Government’s approach to licensing new communications companies in the area raises questions about the area’s need for more than one operator.

Political economy researcher Yahya al-Sayyid Omar told Enab Baladi that the northern Syria region can be considered sufficient in terms of telecommunication services.

Al-Sayyid Omar added that there is no real need for new operators in the region under a population census that is not considered dense, as the proportionality of the number of operators to the population is a reliable criterion for estimating the region’s need.

In the researcher’s view, the economic environment in the north needs new production investments rather than service investments. He explained that service investments have a low value-added contribution, as opposed to production investments.

As the region suffers from a very deteriorating economic reality, al-Sayyid Omar asserts that it needs investments capable of creating jobs and supporting economic indicators rather than service investments.


Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Idlib, Huda al-Kulaib, contributed to this report.

 

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