PA telecoms brace for losses after Bezeq gets West Bank license

Israel trying to ‘occupy the air,’ restricting technology, frequencies, Palestinians say.

YOAZ HENDEL: Anything that doesn’t involve people’s livelihoods is less important now.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
YOAZ HENDEL: Anything that doesn’t involve people’s livelihoods is less important now.
Palestinians warn of damage to their telecommunication sector following Israeli Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel’s decision on October 18 to grant Israeli telecommunications company Bezeq a license to operate in Area C of the West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority Communications and Information Technology Ministry condemned the decision, describing it as “a continuation of the occupation of the Palestinian economy, a hostage to its policy and whims.” The ministry called on international institutions to intervene and put a stop to the Israeli measure.
Samer Ali, the foreign relations director at the Palestinian Telecommunications and Information Technology Ministry, told The Media Line the main issue is that Israel prevents the Palestinian people from exercising their rights to use many frequencies. “It’s forbidden to use frequencies for any newer technology.”
Under the Oslo Accords, Area C constitutes about 61% of the West Bank and is home to some 420,000 settlers and approximately 300,000 Palestinians.
Ali said that despite the new decision, Bezeq has been operating in the West Bank for over 35 years illegally, but now with the license, the company can install a wide infrastructure of lines to reach the entire area, under the pretext of linking settlements.
“On the ground, it also covers the main Palestinian cities and villages. At the same time, there’s no fairness in using the frequencies, as Israel offers 4G and 5G services,” he elaborated. “After the decision, the Palestinian market will start using the Israeli service as it’s more advanced and cheaper.”
Palestinian wireless providers have been trying for several years to move beyond 3G service and have objected to Israel’s control of frequencies and telecom infrastructure.
Ali stressed that Palestinians already own between 700,000 and 1 million Israeli SIM cards, “and all of this is a lost opportunity, lost taxes, where our economy is losing NIS 1 billion [$300 million] because of this unfair competition.
“This will enable the Israeli company to increase its networks and towers; they want our companies to become their tools,” he added.
Ali said that Israel’s decision reflects its annexation policy and the theft of Palestinian frequencies. “There must be pressure on Israel; such things will cause us great loss, and will damage an entire sector [of the Palestinian economy].”
He further said, “The Israeli government allocated money from its budget to spread the 5G services in the West Bank.”
Hani Alami, a Palestinian tycoon and chief executive officer of CoolNet, an Internet service provider, told The Media Line that the Israeli move will enable Bezeq to reach and connect Palestinian villages and cities, while the Palestinian companies work with old technologies providing more expensive service than that provided by the Israeli companies.
“Israel is trying to ‘occupy the air’ at a time when it is tightening restrictions on Palestinian companies trying to bring in equipment for the needed technologies,” Alami continued. “The aim is the domination of the telecommunications and internet services sector. An economic occupation, and stealing from the PA income and budget.”
He explained that the financial situation of Palestinian families is very difficult, and therefore they will go with the cheaper service. “The Palestinian government will lose millions, and the telecommunication companies will be affected as well, especially in terms of resizing their manpower.”
Alami said the Israeli decision would damage the Palestinian economy and its growth due to the importance of the telecommunication sector.
While Israel prepares to implement 5G service, the Palestinian telecoms in the West Bank only moved to 3G last year and Gaza remains with 2G.
Ammar Eker, the CEO of Palestine Telecommunications (Paltel), the largest employer (after the PA government) in the Palestinian territories, told The Media Line that while Israeli operators have been working in the West Bank for many years and covering much of the area, especially Area C and near settlements, “granting Bezeq a license was done to legitimize the activities of these operators in the West Bank.”
Eker indicated that the Israeli decision has a political dimension, as it considers the West Bank as part of Israel, in accordance with the current Israeli government’s (currently suspended) annexation plan. “Not to mention that Israeli companies are being subsidized by the government, as an encouragement to serve settlements in the West Bank, and it also subsidizes the construction of infrastructure for the operators, which makes it very difficult for us as Palestinian operators to compete.”
He affirmed that there would be a major negative effect on the Palestinian telecom sector, which was not allowed to use modern technologies to provide modern services. “We only use 3G and in Gaza 2G.”
The World Radiocommunication Conference 2019, which met in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, unanimously adopted Resolution No. 12 stipulating the right of the Palestinian Authority to operate fourth- and fifth-generation services and requiring Israel to “fulfill its obligation” to allow the Palestinian people to use these frequencies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Imad, a Palestinian based in Ramallah, told The Media Line that ever since the Israeli SIM cards became popular among Palestinians, he has been against their use, despite the lower cost.
“I know their prices are very cheap, but I boycott Israeli services, and I support the Palestinian sector although I know they make more money than they should,” he said.
Khader, a Palestinian from Hebron, told The Media Line that he already has an Israeli SIM card, the service provided is cheaper than with Palestinian companies, “and since I live near settlements, I have full service most of the time.”
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