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Experts urge changes to Myanmar telecom bill

Information-technology experts and entrepreneurs have proposed amendments to Myanmar's telecommunications bill that was made public last month. Khun Oo, president of the Myanmar Computer Federation, said the information and communications technology sector could develop rapidly, but it could also decline because of the new law.

Ye Yint Win, president of the Myanmar Computer Professionals Association, said: "According to Section 4 Article 7, every telecommunications services will need a licence. Web-development businesses, e-commerce businesses and individuals who want to sell their applications will also need licences. So [the law] needs to separate and identify the services that need licences and those that do not need licences, as it can harm freedom of creation and small enterprises."

Chaw Khin Khin of MCC Groups added: "If Google doesn't apply for a licence after the bill is passed, Gmail will become an illegal mail-service provider. The bill should encourage competition."

Min Zayyar Hlaing, president of the Myanmar Computer Industry Association, suggested amendments to Article 64, as the provision prohibits individuals without licences from using an electronic apparatus. Under that article, "anyone who possesses or uses an electronic apparatus without a licence shall be sued and punished by up to three years in prison or pay a fine or both if his or her act is found [in violation]".

He also criticised the bill for placing the regulating body under the control of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

Nay Phone Latt, executive director of the Myanmar ICT for Development Organisation, said: "As with the intended volume-based [Internet rate] charging plan, if the ministry is setting the rates of the services and companies, it can deter competition [in the telecommunications sector] and the services provided to consumers."

Aung Soe Thar, executive member of the Myanmar Computer Federation, also urged that regulators stay independent. A provision states that a ministry official is in charge of fixing prices for services.

All in all, participants in a conference this week on the issue saw the telecommunications bill as harsh and stringent, and found that it hindered freedom of expression.

Nay Phone called for detailed and clear definitions of such terms as "national security", "rule of law and stability", "national solidarity", and "accepting or transmitting or receiving or communicating or distributing or sharing of wrong information".

Anyone who violates the law can be punished with imprisonment of seven to 17 years, he said, and this affects the freedom of speech and expression.

Myanmar has enacted a number of communication-related laws, including the Telegraph Act (1885), the Wireless Telegraphy Act (1943), the Computer Science Development Law (1996) and the Electronic Transactions Law (2004).

Should the new bill be passed into law, the Telegraph Act (1885) and the Wireless Telegraphy Act (1943) will be cancelled. The Computer Science Development Law (1996) and the Electronic Transactions Law (2004), however, will remain.

The conference in Yangon was attended by Lower House Deputy Speaker Nanda Kyaw Swar, legal advisers, officials from various computer associations, IT experts and entrepreneurs.


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