Libya to allow private mobile phone company to operate

Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

Plans to open the Libyan mobile phone market to the private sector have taken a step forward with the announcement by Communications Minister Osama Siala that a tender will be launched as early as January for bids from international private telecom companies to operate a fourth network.

At present, there are three mobile phone operators – Libyana, Almadar and Libya Phone – but all are state owned. They contribute beween two and three percent of the country’s GDP.

“We are going to propose a mobile telephone licence for the private sector in three to six months,” Siala said in an interview with French news agency AFP.  The government and Congress’ Communications Committee, he said, had approved the move.

There are over eight million mobile subscribers in Libya at present, far more than the number of people. That is because many Libyans have two accounts, one with Libyana, the other with Almadar. They do so because landlines are almost impossible to obtain and the service provided by the two main operators is far from reliable. The network for both is patchy in different areas and calls regularly break up or cut out altogether. Having two lines improves the chances of making and receiving calls. Even so, the quality of telephone calls is a major bugbear for Libyans. Even the Grand Mufti has complained publicly about it.

Siala had said that the ministry would like the new private operator to be foreign. A foreign company would sharpen competition, he said.   ”But that will depend on a law on encouraging foreign investment that is being studied in the GNC,” he was quoted by AFP as saying.

Congress would decide if bidders can be Libyan foreign or a joint-venture, he said.

Opening the market to the private sector is seen as a necessary preliminary to privatising the three state-owned providers