INTERNET LAW - UNITED ARAB EMIRATES TELECOM INDUSTRY AND E-COMMERCE

Ira Piltz, Greenpoint Technologies
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In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), telecom and Internet penetration are already at high levels. The government's primary aim is to offer higher-quality services. Emirates Telecommunications Corporation’s (Etisalat) e-commerce division, Comtrust, offers an e-commerce infrastructure and applications services. An additional initiative is the establishment of an e-commerce in Dubai, namely, the TECOM (Technology, Electronic Commerce and Media) free zone.

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The United Arab Emirates is a Middle Eastern confederation comprising seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajmân, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain.

Dubai skyline Federal Act No. 1 [14] of 1976 has organized the Emirates Telecommunications Corporation (Etisalat) as the sole telephone and telecommunications provider in the UAE. Yet free zones and modern housing developments are exempt from the requirement of using Etisalat and may choose a separate telecommunications company.

Q:  What is the present position of telecom sector in UAE?

According to the UAE's Supreme Committee for the Supervision of the Telecom Sector, the area's telecommunications and Internet penetration levels are high and the primary goal of the regulators is to offer higher-quality services. Additionally, the committee has espoused the goal of UAE becoming a telecom and IT hub for the Gulf region based on the overall environment and the necessary potential in its telecom sector.

Since the establishment of Etisalat in 1976, the Etisalat has seen many achievements, which have placed the country among the best countries in terms of the provision of advanced telecommunication services at reasonable prices. Etisalat provides a range of telecommunications services, including e-commerce, telephone, fax, and voice mail, internet, and cable vision services.

In April 2004, the UAE announced the opening of a telecommunications sector that revoked Etisalat's monopoly rights. This decree took affect on January 1, 2005.

Notwithstanding this purported openness, at present, for the majority of the UAE, Etisalat exercises monopoly power on business and personal telecommunications services.

Q:  How does Etisalat, UAE’s dominant Telecom Company, contribute to the development of e-commerce in the UAE?

Etisalat’s e-commerce division, Comtrust has organized various e-commerce infrastructure and applications services.

Comtrust provides secure e-commerce solutions to UAE businesses, through the implementation of a core infrastructure in the UAE. E-commerce solutions that are provided by Comtrust target business-to-business, business-to-consumers, business-to-government users, and consumer-to-government activities.

Etisalat has expanded its activities into the Middle East and has plans to expand to the United States and Far East markets.

To illustrate its functions and activities, Comtrust has completed a project for Riyadh-based Al Zuhair Group to host that Group’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) requirements on the Internet.

Q:  What are the free zones in the country and how do they function?

Many innovative free zones in Dubai have been established since 2000. The most noteworthy is the TECOM (Technology, Electronic Commerce and Media) free zone. In February 2000, Dubai's then ruler, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum, issued a decree setting up this free-trade zone for electronic commerce and technology. That decree recognized an independent body, the free zone authority which would operate under the aegis of the Dubai government.

The free zone authority manages the establishment of the essential infrastructure at the zone. It licenses companies that want to organize in TECOM. It also leases land and property to those companies for up to 50 years. Approximately 1,000 companies have their Dubai bases in the free zone, including Microsoft, Reuters and CNN, all of whom lease their telecom services from TECOM.

TECOM also houses both Internet City and Media City, two sections that provide, respectively, to the IT and media sectors. The company offers a high bandwidth and state-of-the-art IT infrastructure.

One of the primary objectives of the free zone is to draft strategies and policies to make Dubai a centre for technology and electronic commerce.

Ira Piltz, Greenpoint Technologies

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