According to the Solomon Star, the Telecommunication Commissions of Solomon Islands (TCSI) has withdrawn its request for applications for a third mobile licence, citing legal complications attached to the issue. A statement issued by the telecoms watchdog reads: ‘The TCSI has withdrawn the ‘Request for Applications for a Mobile Telecommunications Services Licence’ published on 11 February 2011. The Request for Applications had been suspended since 4 March 2011 following legal claims made by Solomon Telekom and bemobile, the two existing service providers. In view of delays resulting from such litigation and the likelihood of further legal claims should any licence be awarded, the TCSI has concluded that it is very unlikely that any application for the licence will now be forthcoming, and under such circumstances it is appropriate to withdraw the Request for Applications. The TCSI will continue to review the level of competition and investment in the telecommunications market in order to ensure that the public sector, the private sector and the Solomon Islands population will benefit from improvements to price, quality, variety and availability of modern telecommunications services’.
Initial announcements regarding the introduction of a third player came just months after the October 2010 launch of the country’s second operator, bemobile. Communications commissioner Nick Williams indicated that he hoped to be able to award a third licence by March 2011, with a view to the selected operator rolling out commercial services within a six-month time frame. Caribbean-based telecoms firm Digicel – which operates in 32 markets across the Caribbean, Pacific and Central American regions – was rumoured to be interested in the licence, after two previous attempts at entering the Solomon Islands’ wireless sector were scuppered by the regulator. Digicel was granted a licence in 2006, only to be blocked from launching a network by incumbent Solomon Telekom, and when the second licence was tendered in 2009, bemobile got the nod instead. If the tender had gone ahead as planned the Solomon Islands would have reportedly been the first country in the South Pacific to have more than two telecoms operators.