Tunisia’s datacomm sector, which is the most advanced in North Africa, is set for liberalization in 2004. Moreover, a VSAT tender is ongoing which will result in ending Tunisie Telecom’s VSAT monopoly.

In 1991, Tunisia became one of the first Arab and African countries to connect to the Internet, according to the Tunisian Internet Agency. The Institut Régional des Sciences Informatiques et des Télécommunications (IRSIT) in Tunisia, currently SOTETEL-IT, was connected with an IP connection on an X.25 line with the Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique (INRIA) in France.

The Internet market in the country is advanced by regional standards. Five private and seven public sector ISPs served approximately 77,000 Internet accounts in the country by end of 2002, a penetration rate of O.78 percent, reported the Arab Advisors Group. Close to three percent of the Tunisian population were Internet users by end of 2002.

³The datacomm market will remain a monopoly market, operated by Tunisie Telecom, until 2004. A tender for a second datacomm operator will be issued by the end of 2003 and there will be a guaranteed duopoly until the end of 2005.² Arab Advisors research analyst, Serene Zawaydeh wrote in a recent report. ³Leased lines constitute the largest subscriber base of the datacomm services offered by Tunisie Telecom, followed by X.25 services. The operator launched Frame Relay in 2001, whose subscriber base is growing very rapidly. The frame relay subscriber base has grown by 37 percent in the first four months of 2003.² Zawaydeh added.

The Tunisian government has also issued an international tender for the award of a license to install and operate a VSAT network. This will introduce competition in VSAT services, currently being provided by Tunisie Telecom only. The new operator will provide international connectivity in addition to covering Tunisia, whereas Tunisie Telecom’s VSAT services are currently limited to data and Internet connectivity inside Tunisia only.