TRA confirms its finding that mass-market broadband services are competitive

March 29, 2014 2:36 pm

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) has released its final decision in relation to its review of competition in the retail and wholesale markets for broadband services in Bahrain.

In its final decision, the TRA recognizes the significant competition that now exists for mass-market broadband services in Bahrain. Consumers today have a wide range of choice of suppliers of broadband services, and strong competition has resulted in substantial price reductions in Bahrain in recent years, as well as innovative offerings for consumers. The broadband offers available in Bahrain are generally very attractive in regional as well as international comparisons.

The TRA has therefore decided to remove regulatory obligations which previously applied to Batelco’s mass-market fixed broadband services, resulting in the deregulation of approximately 90% of broadband services in Bahrain. This will provide Batelco with greater flexibility to respond to competition, allowing Batelco to more quickly offer lower prices, more generous data caps and speeds, and innovative new services to residential and SME customers.

“The review of competition in the broadband markets in Bahrain has been an important priority for TRA. The final determination released sets out TRA’s final views on how competition has emerged in the relevant broadband markets in Bahrain, and represents an important decision as it ensures that regulation in Bahrain remains targeted only in those areas where there is insufficient competition,” says TRA’s General Director Mohamed Bubashait. “In removing regulatory obligations in relation to mass-market broadband services, we are recognizing that vigorous and sustainable competition has emerged in Bahrain which does not rely on regulated access. In recent years, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of WiMax and mobile broadband services in Bahrain, and strong uptake of broadband users by a number of operators. In such circumstances, regulation is not required, as consumers are able to benefit from lower prices, innovative services, and higher quality as a result of competition between the network operators in Bahrain.”

The final decision follows a consultation process with interested parties, with a draft determination issued in November 2013. Submissions were received from Batelco, Viva, Zain, and 2Connect on 12 December 2013, and cross-submissions were received from the same parties on 9 January 2014. Having reviewed the submissions, TRA has concluded that no operator has Significant Market Power (SMP) or dominance in the supply of mass-market broadband services in Bahrain, and that as a result, it is appropriate to remove current regulatory obligations from Batelco in relation to these services. However, TRA has concluded that in relation to higher-quality business broadband services, Batelco continues to have SMP at the retail level and dominance at the wholesale level. The regulatory obligations on Batelco will therefore be retained in order to promote the competitive supply of business broadband services in Bahrain.

TRA last reviewed these markets in 2008 and 2009, when it found Batelco to dominate the broadband markets. Since then, there have been a number of important market developments which have led to sustainable competitive alternatives emerging for “mass-market” broadband consumers, who are predominantly residential and small business consumers. These consumers now have a range of suppliers available, including DSL, fixed wireless (i.e. WiMax), and mobile broadband operators. The recent launch of high-speed mobile broadband services in Bahrain based on LTE technology will continue to strengthen competitive pressures in respect of mass-market broadband services.

For higher-quality business broadband services, however, there is less competitive pressure, as competing wireless operators have not been as successful in this segment. Competitors relying on regulated access to Batelco’s fixed network, for example using the regulated Bitstream service, remain an important source of competition for business broadband services.

TRA’s conclusion that Batelco no longer has SMP or dominance in the supply of mass-market broadband services is an important step in ensuring that the regulatory framework in Bahrain is reviewed and adapted in light of competitive developments. TRA’s decisions to issue new National Fixed Wireless Service licences in 2007 and a third Mobile Licence in 2009 have facilitated new infrastructure-based entry into Bahrain with the arrival of Menatelecom and Viva. Both of these operators have been important competitors in the supply of broadband services, and the final determination issued today reflects this.

At the same time, TRA’s analysis recognizes that regulation at both the retail and wholesale level continues to have a role to play in promoting competitive outcomes in the business broadband markets.