On January 25, 2022, the Ministry of Communications published a Call for Bids to submit responses on the issue of encouraging the deployment of advanced internet infrastructure in ethnic minority towns and villages. On February 13, 2022, a response to the Call for Bids was submitted on behalf of the Israel Internet Association (ISOC-IL), the National Committee of Heads of Arab Local Authorities in Israel, along with additional professional bodies with the relevant expertise and knowhow regarding the state of the internet infrastructure within the Arab communities in Israel.
The Israel Internet Association’s position – key points:
- Prioritizing ethnic minority towns and villages within the minister’s authority to determine mandatory areas when launching the incentive tender: Section 14d(e) of the Telecommunications Law grants the Minister of Communications the power to instruct that a rate of up to 15% of households in areas to be included in the proposals of bidders in tenders of the government-mandated incentive fund shall be within the geographical areas it prescribes. After the Minister of Communications exercised his said power in favor of towns and villages along the border fence together with those facing security threats as part of the first incentive tender, it must do the same for the ethnic minority towns and villages in the upcoming incentive tender.
- Examination of the need to update the regulation in order to enable technological solutions to reduce the deployment costs: the main barrier to the deployment of fiber-optic infrastructure is the last mile deployment cost, namely laying out the infrastructure from the edge of the town/village to all endpoints within it. In ethnic minority towns and villages, whose infrastructure is usually less developed to start with (also in comparison to small communities such as kibbutzim), the cost of deploying fibers to each individual house or building becomes an unscalable barrier. Accordingly, the Ministry of Communications and the Joint Ministry Committee must reexamine the licensing and regulation requirements of millimeter-wave (mmW) communication networks along with the available supply of frequencies for that purpose, with a view to encouraging the use of this technology in those locations where the deployment of a landline infrastructure to each building involves excessive costs. Moreover, it is also necessary to reexamine the terms of the regulation and the incentive tender for last mile requirements, so that it would be possible to offer an advanced alternative to fiber internet infrastructure, insofar as its engineering plan guarantees the provision of fiber-like connectivity for the end consumer.
- Reconsidering the pre-qualification criteria for bidders in the incentive tenders: when taking into account the fact that most of the companies specializing in the deployment of advanced communications infrastructure in ethnic minority towns and villages are relatively upcoming or small enterprises, there is concern that the pre-qualification criteria prescribed for the first incentive tender – with respect to past experience or requisite guarantees – are excluding many entrepreneurs from operating in ethnic minority towns and villages. Of course; however, this should be done without lowering the professional standards for the ethnic minority communities. The practical implication of this is that the Ministry of Communications and the Joint Ministry Team must reevaluate the pre-qualification criteria for the tender from the point onwards, after having examined the characteristics of the companies currently operating in the field of internet infrastructure in ethnic minority towns and villages.
- Expanding the cooperation and knowhow with the local authorities in Arab society: practical experience has shown that the local authorities have a key role to play in the processes of deploying advanced communications infrastructure on site. Therefore, any government initiative to further the deployment of fibers within ethnic minority towns and villages should look at the influence of the local authorities on the overall spectrum of incentives for said infrastructure ventures and should work to enlist them in the process of removing barriers and incentivizing the deployment. We call on the Ministry of Communications to establish a dedicated forum for the local authorities within Arab society, in order to provide professional knowhow tailored for their unique needs, in relation to the technological and financial options for deploying state-of-the-art internet infrastructure, without the need for complex and expensive work to connect up each and every building.