H.E. CHENDA THONG shares with IIC Newsletter the workings of the TRC.
IIC NEWSLETTER: Tell us about TRC.
H.E. CHENDA THONG: The Telecommunication Regulator of Cambodia (TRC) is a public legal entity which operates autonomously to protect operators and consumers and manage free and fair competition in Cambodia’s telecoms market. TRC aspires to be a world-class regulatory body, regulating the telecommunications industry with good governance, accountability and transparency. It is governed by the Chairman with the support from five commissioners in charge of key different bureaus including International Relations, Planning and Finance, Telecommunications Regulation, Radio Frequency and Competition and Consumer Protection. The regulator’s principal obligation is to license, oversee and monitor telecommunications services in Cambodia. H.E. CHENDA THONG shares with IIC Newsletter the workings of the TRC.
IICN: What are the implications of COVID-19 for TRC and Cambodia’s post-pandemic recovery?
HECT: The pandemic has been a slap in our face, but it also offers us a reality check on the development of the telecommunications sector. TRC has a chance to reset and reboot with new initiatives to harness and enhance the telecommunications sector after realizing the critical roles of telecommunications in daily life. To help combat the Covid-19 pandemic TRC’s support to the government included issuing an emergency number and hotline to the Ministry of Health and www.stopcovid.gov.kh to the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications for COVID-19 contact tracing purposes. Recently, Cambodia was ranked number two in terms of success in fighting the pandemic, according to the Nikkei’s Covid-19 Recovery Index.
IICN: What actions are you taking for post covid-19 recovery?
HECT: Under the pressure of the pandemic, many issues arise; however, the wide gap in digital accessibility amongst Cambodian is distinctly manifested. Hence, TRC has placed narrowing the digital divide in the top priority and embarked on several steps to safeguard digital inclusion for post covid-19 recovery including:
- drafting regulations necessary to address the issues of quality of services
- deploying cutting edge technology to measure the quality of services and monitoring spectrum interference
- setting up mobile applications for users to measure broadband performance provided by their operators
- establishing two different taskforces in which one divided into five teams to tackle the quality of telecommunications services in those five regions and the other to improve the quality of telecommunications services in residential areas
- establishing partnerships with international regulators and other organizations to share best practices and exchange programs
IICN: Where is Cambodia now on its journey of digital transformation?
HECT: With reference to infrastructure, by and large, the country is moving towards digital transformation, starting with digital connectivity. There is a ‘backbone’ network of 19,279 km of fiber optic cable in place. Cambodia connects to two main submarine cables, AAE-1 and MCT. 4G networks currently cover 95.7 per cent of the population and 74 per cent of the land area. It will scale up to 95 per cent of the whole country in the next few years. Cambodia has also promoted additional investment in the construction of submarine fiber-optic cables and satellite systems, data centers, and other infrastructure to accelerate the development of the digital ecosystem in the country.
‘The Cambodia Policy and Framework on Digital Economy and Society 2021-2035’ envisages a vibrant digital economy and society to accelerate new economic growth. It aim is to promote social well-being by building digital citizens and digital business as well as digital government and improved public services The ministry is currently drafting other regulations including cybersecurity, personal data protection, infrastructure sharing, and radio frequency spectrum.
IICN: What are the biggest challenges Cambodia faces in its journey towards a digital economy and society?
HECT: Digitization is not an easy task to achieve. Compared to the other nine ASEAN member countries, Cambodia is ranked lower in terms of digital readiness, especially in human resource development, technology capture, and infrastructure development. 70 per cent of Cambodia’s population is, for instance, digitally illiterate while less than 30 per cent is able to use the internet and digital tools to conduct research and seek information. Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) are a major domestic economic force, but most are still limited in their capacity to embrace digital technology.
The lack of infrastructure and quality of telecommunications services to support digitalization is another challenge that negatively impacts any businesses dependent on digital services. Data centers at the national level for computing and storing data for the Cambodian government have not been available.
Digital security is a significant risk, especially for national security and consumer protection. Another concern is the lack of legal regulations to prevent illegal acts committed on the internet and protect internet users from harm in cyberspace. Incentives to improve the quality of telecommunication services remains a challenge, and market management is still limited due to the lack of legal regulations.
In light of these challenges, TRC and the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications have put digital talent development, regulatory reform, and infrastructure advancement at the top of the agenda with the intention to ensure digital accessibility, affordability, sustainability and security.