An extract from The Technology, Media and Telecommunications Review, 11th Edition

Overview

Building an information society is one of the priorities of the government of the Republic of Belarus. This approach is reflected in the Decision on the Strategy for Collaboration of the CIS States Parties in the Construction and Development of the Information Society for the Period up to 2025 and the Action Plan on its Implementation, adopted on 28 October 2016 in Minsk (CIS Decision). One of the tasks of CIS member states' cooperation in the construction and development of the information society is the provision of services to citizens and organisations using modern information and telecommunication technologies. On 25 October 2019, the Council of CIS State Leaders have adopted Decision on the Concept of Cooperation of the States Members of the CIS in the Field of Digital Development of Society and the Plan of Priority Measures for its Implementation (the Concept). The Concept aims to create a digital environment in the CIS space, accelerating the implementation of information and communication technologies, creating conditions for the introduction of technologies that ensure decentralisation, safety, security and openness of transmitted information and other types of technologies.

The growth in ICT development approach is a result of the adoption of the State Development Programme of the Digital Economy and Information Society for 2016–2020 (the State Programme). The goal of the State Programme is to improve the conditions of transformation of human activities under the influence of ICT, including the formation of the digital economy, the development of the information society and the improvement of e-government.

One of the major innovative developments in Belarus took place on 21 December 2017 when the President signed Decree No. 8 on the Development of the Digital Economy fixing progressive and unique regulation in the IT sphere on a global scale, as well as developing a regime for High Tech Park (HTP) residents. HTP has been successfully operating for more than a decade, providing a beneficial taxation system to residents specialising in the IT sector.

The Decree also devotes special attention to the development of blockchain technologies and cryptocurrency payments.

Tokens are recognised as a legitimate object of legal relations. Tax privileges are introduced to operations with tokens, including trade in cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings. Until 2023, individual revenues from mining and operations with tokens are not subject to declaration and taxation depending on the categories of the subject: a resident of the Belarus HTP, an individual or another entity.

Additionally, the special statuses of cryptographic platform operator and cryptocurrency exchange have been introduced. The Decree sets for them a minimum security value to be stored at Belarusian banks of not less than 1 million and 200,000 rubles respectively (approximately US$380,000 and US$75,000).

Among other privileges and benefits, HTP residents use simplified rules of company document control and a simplified system for foreign founders and employees, which additionally boosts the development of the ICT sector. Foreign employees and founders of HTP resident companies are entitled to visa-free entry to Belarus for the duration of their temporary stay of 180 days.

Regulation

i The regulators

The central management body that is responsible for state regulation, coordination of work and development of the telecommunications sector is the Ministry of Communications and Informatisation of the Republic of Belarus (MinCom).

The MinCom carries out:

  1. development and implementation of telecommunication development programmes;
  2. coordination of activities in the field of creation and development of telecommunication networks;
  3. the long-term planning of the use of the RF spectrum by civil electronic radio facilities;
  4. establishment of a unified procedure for the interaction of telecommunication networks through the public telecommunication network, as well as monitoring and centralised management of the public telecommunication network;
  5. the definition of requirements for the construction, numbering, organisational and technical support for the operation of telecommunication networks, their management, to ensure the protection of telecommunication networks from unauthorised access to them and messages transmitted thereon, the use of the RF spectrum, the order of traffic transmission, and the provision of telecommunication services;
  6. regulation of the activities of telecommunication operators;
  7. international cooperation in the field of telecommunications, including interaction with international organisations and telecommunications administrations of other states, ensuring the fulfilment of obligations under international treaties of the Republic of Belarus; and
  8. development and adoption of regulatory legal acts.

The Republican Unitary Enterprise for Telecommunications Supervision 'BelGIE' (BelGIE RUE) is a state agency that falls under the auspices of the MinCom. Among others, BelGIE RUE has the following main objectives:

  1. ensuring the protection of the RF spectrum and its effective use;
  2. assignment of RFs or RF channels;
  3. RF monitoring; and
  4. state supervision of telecommunications, etc.

In accordance with Edict No. 515 (see details in subsection ii, below), an Operational Analytical Centre under the President of the Republic of Belarus (OAC) was designated as an independent regulator in the field of ICT. The OAC, in the role of an independent regulator, focuses on ensuring the successful operation of the Unified Republican Data Transmission Network (URDTN2) and the ICT market in the field of data transmission. It also promotes attraction of investments in the ICT sector and development of the telecommunication services market in terms of providing data and telephony services via IP-protocol and monitors the market for data transmission services and analysis of its condition.

The State Commission on Radio Frequencies under the Security Council of the Republic of Belarus implements a unified state policy in the area of distribution and use of the RF spectrum.

The leading operator of the Republic in the telecommunication services segment is Beltelecom RUE.

ii Main sources of law

The main legislative acts regulating the TMT sector in Belarus are the following:

  1. Law of the Republic of Belarus of 19 July 2005 No. 45-Z on Telecommunications (the Telecom Law);
  2. Law of the Republic of Belarus of 15 December 2003 No. 258-Z on Postal Communication (the Post Law); and
  3. Law of the Republic of Belarus of 10 November 2008 No. 455-Z on Information, Informatisation and Protection of Information (the Information Law).

In addition, the President of the Republic of Belarus has adopted a number of decrees regulating the TMT sector. In practice, they all have greater legal force than laws, due to the fact that in accordance with the Law of the Republic of Belarus of 17 July 2018 No. 130-Z on Normative Legal Acts, in the event of divergence of presidential edict or decree with the law, the law has primacy only when the authority to issue an edict or decree has been granted by law.

Thus, the main regulatory presidential acts in the TMT sector are:

  1. Edict of the President of the Republic of Belarus of 18 April 2006 No. 240 on payment for the use of the radio-frequency spectrum;
  2. Edict of the President of the Republic of Belarus of 1 September 2010 No. 450 on licensing of certain types of activities (the Licensing Law);
  3. Edict of the President of the Republic of Belarus of 1 February 2010 No. 60 on measures to improve the use of the national segment of the Internet (Edict No. 60);
  4. Edict of the President of the Republic of Belarus of 30 September 2010 No. 515 on certain measures for the development of the data transmission network in the Republic of Belarus (Edict No. 515);
  5. Edict of the President of the Republic of Belarus of 15 April 2013 No. 192 n the allocation, use of the radio-frequency spectrum and introduction of changes and additions to Presidential Decree of 31 July 2006 No. 473;
  6. Edict of the President of the Republic of Belarus of 23 January 2014 No. 46 on the use of telecommunication technologies by state bodies and other state organisations; and
  7. Edict of the President of the Republic of Belarus of 15 March 2016 No. 98 on the improvement of the procedure for the transmission of telecommunications messages.

The media sector is mainly regulated by the Law of the Republic of Belarus of 17 July 2008 No. 427-Z on Mass Media (the Mass Media Law).

The State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, having consistently formed the legal framework for ensuring the safety of critical facilities in Belarus, adopted Joint Resolution No. 24/268, which approved the Regulations on Preventive, Regime and Organisational Measures to prevent terrorist activities and minimisation of their consequences at critical objects of the Republic of Belarus.

Edict of the President of the Republic of Belarus No. 449 on the improvement of state regulation in the field of information protection of 9 December 2019 has approved the Regulation on technical and cryptographic information protection and the Regulation on the assignment of information objects to critical objects of informatisation. They define the notion of a 'critically important object of informatisation' and establish the procedure for classifying objects of informatisation as critically important and ensuring the security of critical information objects.

iii Regulated activitiesCommunications

The TMT sector is strictly regulated by numerous state authorities. In this context, according to the Licensing Law the provision of main telecommunication (TCM) services is subject to obtaining a licence. Such licensed activities include:

  1. public TCM services:
  2. international telephone communication;
  3. long-distance (inter-city) telephone communication; and
  4. local telephone communication;
  5. data transfer service;
  6. VoIP;
  7. IPTV;
  8. mobile TCM service (except cellular communication);
  9. TV transmission;
  10. wireless sound programme broadcasting;
  11. fixed and mobile satellite TCM services; and
  12. cellular communication.

The Licensing Law also outlines the following public postage services:

  1. mail transfer; and
  2. receipt of a subscription to a printed mass media and printed media delivery.

The Licensing Law expressly outlines the activities that may be conducted without a licence:

  1. rendering telematic services (except for VoIP and IPTV services);
  2. receipt of a subscription to a printed mass media carried out directly by a legal entity entrusted with the functions of the editorial office of the given mass media; and
  3. certain provision of data transmission services via the internet at points of shared use of internet services (e.g., computer clubs, internet cafes, etc.).

The general licence requirements and conditions for the licensee are:

  1. compliance with the requirements and conditions established by the Post Law and Telecom Law;
  2. the presence of not less than one specialist in the staff who has duly confirmed professional training and qualifications corresponding to the profile of the services provided;
  3. the permission of the authorised organisation for the right to use the RF spectrum when providing public telecommunication services using the RF spectrum;
  4. observing the terms of the commencement of services provision specified in the licence; and
  5. provision of public telecommunication services using the licensee's telecommunication networks with the permit to connect them to the public telecommunication network and to the URDTN.

The licence for communication services may be granted after an application has been made or as a result of tender proceedings (e.g., for RF spectrum usage). In any case, the licence is issued by the MinCom for a unlimited period.

Media

There are certain additional authorisations needed to carry out activities in the media sector.

According to the Mass Media Law, the mass media (e.g., printed mass media, TV or radio programmes and channels) is subject to a state registration procedure. It may be distributed from the date of its inclusion in the State Register of Mass Media.

TV and radio broadcasting in Belarus is additionally subject to obtaining a licence, which may be obtained by the editor of the mass media or by a foreign organisation.

A broadcasting licence is required for mass media editors and foreign companies broadcasting a TV channel or a radio channel in Belarus. The licence is not required if the TV and radio broadcasting is carried out by a telecommunications operator without changing the form and content thereof:

  1. on the basis of a permit to distribute the products of a foreign mass media;
  2. under a contract with a legal entity entrusted with the functions of the editor of the mass media; or
  3. if the foreign organisation has a licence in the field of broadcasting.
iv Ownership and market access restrictions

Belarusian law establishes certain ownership restrictions within the TMT sector.

In the TMT sector certain restrictions apply in the foreign participation and investments area. Generally, a mass media editor cannot register its mass media if a foreign state, entity, individual, international entity or individual without citizenship owns 20 per cent or more of its shares.

So as spectrum is considered a rare resource, its management and use is reserved to the state. It is particularly reflected in the application of a tender procedure for obtaining a licence.

According to the Decision of the Operational Analytical Centre under the President of the Republic of Belarus, the Ministry of Communications and Informatisation of the Republic of Belarus of 10 February 2014 No. 1/2 on approval of the list of telecommunication operators entitled to pass inter-network traffic only three state-owned entities are authorised for internetwork traffic transmission. Two of them are additionally entitled to pass international traffic and join foreign states to telecom networks under the Order of the Operational Analytical Centre under the President of the Republic of Belarus of 6 December 2012 No. 91.

v Transfers of control and assignments

As a general rule, communication licences may not be transferred or assigned to third parties. TMT licences may only be granted to legal entities of Belarus.

Mergers and acquisitions of ICT entities are subject to general antitrust legislation requirements.