On October 11, the main internet regulator in Azerbaijan – the Ministry for Transport, Communication and High Technologies – was renamed the Ministry of Digital Development and Transport. The move comes following the signing of a Presidential Order that includes “improving management in the field of digitalization, innovation, high technology and communication in Azerbaijan,” according to ABC.az reporting.
The decree also orders the setting up of the following departments within the rebranded ministry:
- The Agency for Information Communication Technologies;
- Innovation and Digital Development Agency (which will now combine, National Nuclear Research Center, Innovation Agency, and High Technologies Research Center);
Under its responsibilities, the Agency for Information Communication Technologies will:
- carry out certification, accounting, control, and regulation of information communication technologies (including quality control) – this means that the new agency will act as the main internet regulator from now on;
Experts say, the newly set up internet regulator, is unlikely to act independently. Human rights lawyer, Emin Abbasov said, “For many years, regulation in this sector [ICT] belonged to the Ministry [of Transport, Communication, and High Technologies]. And it has been a long-awaited move to set up an independent internet regulatory body. However, the new agency is unlikely to act independently as its head will be appointed by the Minister of Digital Development and Transport.”
Similarly, commenting on the decision, the President of Azerbaijan Internet Forum, Osman Gunduz said while it is a good sign that there is a new agency, its autonomy from its predecessor is yet to be seen. “For many years, the Ministry was the regulator. Basically, the ministry was regulating the ICT market, in which it also had stakes. There was a department within the ministry responsible for regulations and for decades this department favored government operators by creating favorable conditions for them. So it is a positive step that there is now a separate agency. What is interesting however is that according to the order, the head of the Agency will be appointed by the Minister [of Digital Development and Transport]. It would have been better if it was the President. Because it is unlikely that the Agency is going to have it easy regulating a deeply embedded tradition and creating equal conditions for both state and private companies. The question we should be asking is whether the leadership of the agency will have the authority and say in regulating the state operator in accordance with the new rules and procedures? And whether yet again, state companies will hold an upper hand in the market?
In Azerbaijan, the ICT market is fairly concentrated in the hands of the government – in terms of control, and regulation as well as services – namely the Ministry of Transport, Communication, and High Technologies. In 2016, the President approved a Strategic Roadmap for Telecommunication and Information Technology Development. According to item seven, titled “strategic goals,” the document called for setting up an independent regulatory body by 2020.