The highly anticipated Telecommunications Law (the “Law”) was signed into law by President Thein Sein on 8 October 2013 and has been published in the state-owned newspapers on 12 October 2013. The Law sets the general framework for the telecommunication sector in Myanmar and repeals the obsolete Myanmar Telegraph Act, 1885 and The Myanmar Wireless Telegraph Act, 1934 are repealed.

In accordance with the Law, local and foreign-owned telecommunication operators and service providers may apply for a license with the relevant authority. There are several types of licenses, such as the Network Facilities License, Network Services License and Application Services License, each granted for a term of 5 years to a maximum of 20 years.

The Law further includes some broad provisions with regards to consumer protection and anti-competition, and states that interconnection agreements for network facilities and network services will have to be approved by the Telecommunications Department under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (“MCIT”).

Looking at the new Law from the perspective of international best practice, it could be said that the Law somehow falls short of what could have been hoped for, evidencing a continued centralized, top-down approach to the ICT sector (which is perhaps inevitable given the recent history of Myanmar). Much will now depend on the set of implementing Rules and Regulations, prepared by World Bank consultants, which are to be issued within 90 days of the passing of the Law.

The critical areas of these ancillary Rules and Regulations are in Licensing, Interconnection and Access, Infrastructure Sharing, Competition and Tariffs and we can only wait to see what they contain before passing final judgment on the whole package. The question will be whether those Rules and Regulations will build on the tentative steps taken in the Law towards a liberalised ICT sector with a regulatory regime that fosters fair competition, but does not stifle the sector and its network operators and service providers with heavy-handed controls and unnecessary regulatory burdens, setting a level playing field for all.

Other matters that the MCIT and the Union Government will have to deal with in the short and medium term:

  • Will the playing field in the ICT sector be a level one between foreign and domestic interests? ;
  • Will the commitment in Article 86 of the Law to introduce an independent regulator within 2 years of the passing of the Law be fulfilled, and will MCIT accept funding from donor agencies for vital secondment and consultancy programmes to bring in experienced international regulatory experts to help build capacity for this proposed regulatory body? 

Although the Rules and Regulations are still to be enacted, this long-awaited new Law is one of the most important pieces of legislations since the new Foreign Investment Law. The Law is set to have a huge impact on foreign investment and the business scene in Myanmar.

We are pleased to provide you with an unofficial DFDL translation of the new Law (click here).