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Telenor faces troubling times as Myanmar coup intensifies

Yehia El Amine

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Telenor faces troubling times as Myanmar coup intensifies

Norwegian telecom operator Telenor is facing increased pressure on multiple fronts in Myanmar, as it stands toe-to-toe with the country’s junta over its employees’ safety, while confronted with a draconian cybersecurity bill.

Following its military coup on February 1, the junta has repeatedly forced Internet services providers to shut down or restrict access to the Internet since seizing power and imprisoning local leaders; Telenor had attempted to provide transparency by publishing any ordered outages on its website.

However, the telco said on Sunday that “it is currently not possible for Telenor to disclose the directives we receive from the authorities” in Myanmar, adding that “we deeply regret that the list on this site will no longer be updated.”

“Our overall judgement of the situation now means that we can’t communicate about the directives,” spokeswoman Hanne Langeland Knudsen told the AFP, saying that the situation in Myanmar is “confused and unclear” and that “our employees’ security has had top priority from the start.”

The majority state-owned Norwegian operator has been in the Myanmar market since 2014 and employs almost 747 people within the country.

The junta forced a fourth nationwide Internet shutdown last night, according to UK-based monitoring group NetBlocks, but was reopened this morning.

The military has forced numerous Internet outages across Myanmar since the coup, in an attempt prevent thousands of protesters in the streets from communicating and coordinating, as extra boots on the ground have been deployed to intensify the crackdown.

In parallel, Telenor is also facing a censorship and control-oriented cybersecurity bill introduced by the junta that would grant them sweeping powers over digital content. The operator was swift to slam the bill, with its chief exec, Sigve Brekke, telling the Financial Times that it was too broad, failed to consider human rights, and should not be implemented as written.

“We are very, very clear in our response. How that’s going to be received, I don’t know… It is a very uncertain and irregular situation,” Brekke added.

Many have described the bill as draconian, with Human Rights Watch highlighting that it would give the junta “almost unlimited power to access user data, putting anyone who speaks out at risk.”

On the early morning hours of February 1, the military overthrew the democratically elected government, arresting senior officials such as Aung San Suu Kyi after less than a decade of civilian rule. Telenor had faced previous pressure when military officials ordered it to block access to various social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Facebook is considered the most popular in Myanmar with 21 million active users, as Brekke noted that the proposed law would “silence peaceful political speech” and called for the “immediate retraction of this law.”

A statement issued by the provider highlighted that the proposed Bill should be properly consulted with a broad range of affected stakeholders (allowing public debate) and debated in Parliament to ensure that the law is fit for purpose and in line with the Constitution of Myanmar.

“We are concerned that the proposed Bill does not progress relevant regulatory frameworks and law for a digital future, nor promotes and safeguards digital safety and rights,” it added.

The statement argued that the country has international obligations in relation to international agreements, treaties, and international human rights law. “These obligations include respect for rule of law and good governance, and respect for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” it stressed.

To this end, Telenor Group outlined four key principles in relation to the proposed Bill, as its strongly objects to the passing of the law without addressing the following concerns:

  • Human rights considerations: The proposed Bill must give due consideration to fundamental human rights such as freedom of speech and expression in Myanmar and personal privacy and security concerns to people in Myanmar.
  • Applicability of the proposed Bill: Passing the proposed Bill during a state of emergency and granting such broad powers to a temporary administration is not appropriate.
  • Execution of powers: There must be transparency, legal certainty, due process, and clear criteria for the exercise of powers and interventions, independent administration, and independent oversight under the proposed Bill.
  • Scope of proposed Bill: The proposed Bill should not include powers which can be used to order Lawful Interception, which is covered by the Telecom Law. Further, laws governing personal data protection, electronic transactions and cyber security should be kept separate to allow for more comprehensive protection, governance, and execution across all areas.

“The military rulers are implementing new type of rules and regulations and now we are not able to be open about everything that happens. That is a big concern for us,” Brekke concluded.

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Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

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Telecoms

SK Telecom to be split into two, holding company to oversee non-mobile biz

Karim Hussami

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SK Telecom to be split into two

South Korea’s largest mobile carrier SK Telecom Co. will split into two separate entities. It said it will create a new holding company for its non-mobile subsidiaries to accelerate growth in promising fields and tighten its grip on its chipmaking unit, SK Hynix Inc.

The horizontal spin-off is aimed at increasing enterprise and shareholder value, the operator said. The plan will leave the surviving company focused on its telecom business (tentatively named ‘AI & Digital Infra Company’) and the spin-off company taking over the memory business and new ventures (tentatively named ‘ICT Investment Company’).

Surviving entity

After the spin-off, SK Telecom will be divided into a surviving entity that will succeed its telecom business as a mobile network operator (MNO), and a new entity that is essentially an investment firm to seek new opportunities in non-telecom sectors.

The telecom operator’s spinoff plan had been widely expected after CEO Park Jung-ho said in a shareholders meeting last month that the company would overhaul its governance structure amid a slump in its share price in recent years.

SK Telecom’s share price had been in stalemate at the end of 2020 from the previous year at 238,000 won.

While SK Hynix has made active investments in the past, such as acquiring Intel’s NAND memory business in October last year for US$9 billion, its parent SK Group wants to tighten its grip on the chipmaker and help it aggressively expand investments.

The remaining entity will focus on the mobile carrier’s traditional telecom business and expand to new sectors, such as artificial intelligence and data centers.

The mobile carrier said it will decide on the details of the spinoff within the first half of this year.

Areas of interest

SK Telecom’s surviving entity will focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and digital infrastructure in addition to its current mobile and network businesses.

The entity will have SK Broadband Inc., the Internet service provider, as a subsidiary and will continue the current telecom and IPTV businesses.

The surviving company will also expand into a number of new areas such as cloud, data center and AI-based subscription segments. 

No merger

The latest announcement comes as the mobile carrier’s non-mobile subsidiaries have rapidly grown to account for 24 percent of the company’s total operating profit last year.

The subsidiaries have also formed global partnerships to boost their presence in the local market, with T Map Mobility joining hands with U.S. ride-hailing firm Uber Technologies Inc. to form a taxi-hailing joint venture in South Korea.

11Street has teamed up with Amazon.com Inc. with plans to offer the U.S. retail giant’s products to South Korean consumers.

SK Telecom is also preparing initial public offerings for app market unit ONE Store as well as security firm ADT Caps Co.

While analysts have speculated that the corporate revamp would eventually lead to a merger between SK Inc., the holding company for SK Group, and SK Telecom’s new holding company to elevate the status of SK Hynix in the conglomerate, the mobile carrier rejected the claim.

“There are no plans for a merger,” SK Telecom said in a statement.

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Italy to increase EU broadband funding by 60 percent

Karim Hussami

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broadband

Italy aims to spend almost 7 billion euros ($8.33 billion) in European recovery funds on ultra-fast networks, up to a 60 percent increase from a previous goal, as ministers lay out alternatives to a long-delayed single national broadband plan.

The total funds for boosting digitalization amount to some 49 billion euros, up from a previous 46.3 billion euros, including investments in public administration and grants for small and medium-sized companies, one of the sources added on condition of anonymity.

The government of Mario Draghi, which took office in February, is revising a national Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP) that would entitle it to some 206 billion euros by 2026 from an EU program to help nations hardest hit by coronavirus.

Rome planned to raise the amount spent on 5G and broadband satellite infrastructure to 6.7 billion euros from 4.2 billion euros earmarked in January by the previous government.

In addition, the government is also devising alternatives to a previous plan to merge the fixed-line access network of former monopoly Telecom Italia (TIM) with those of smaller rival Open Fiber.

TIM has repeatedly said it would not agree to owning less than 50 percent of any combined entity – something that could trigger regulatory issues.

Under this project, TIM would not fold its primary network – connecting switching center to street cabinets – into the venture, preventing the former phone monopoly having a majority stake.

Draghi’s ministers are discussing an alternative plan to use EU funds to roll out fast broadband networks across Italy’s 20 regions using the best technologies available, including Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) systems, the sources said.

Italy ranked fourth to last in the European Union for digital competitiveness in 2019, the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) compiled by the European Commission found.

Open Fiber is jointly controlled by Italy’s biggest utility Enel and state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP). CDP is TIM’s No. 2 shareholder behind France’s Vivendi

Both options under discussion leave the door open to co-investment schemes allowing operators to build their own networks in some areas and have commercial agreements elsewhere.

TIM has repeatedly said it would not agree to owning less than 50 percent of any combined entity – something that could trigger regulatory issues.

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Japan’s Toshiba president steps down amid acquisition talks

Associated Press

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Japan's Toshiba president steps down amid acquisition talks

The president of Toshiba Corp. stepped down Wednesday, a week after the the Japanese technology and manufacturing giant said it was studying an acquisition proposal from a global fund where he previously worked.

Nobuaki Kurumatani tendered his resignation at a board meeting, and the board accepted, effective Wednesday, Tokyo-based Toshiba said in a statement.

Kurumatani headed the Japan operations of CVC Capital Partners, which proposed the acquisition last week, before taking his post as chief executive of Toshiba in 2018.

Some questions had been raised, both within and outside Tokyo-based Toshiba, about Kurumatani leading the board discussions on the acquisition.

Kurumatani did not attend the online news conference, where two board members explained his resignation and fielded questions.

A company official read his statement that said the resignation was for personal reasons.

“Toshiba is a wonderful company and is Japan’s precious wealth. I love Toshiba deeply,” Kurumatani said in his message.

The CVC deal is estimated to be worth 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) and will turn Toshiba private. Toshiba had said it was giving it “careful consideration.” Osamu Nagayama, a board member, told reporters the proposal lacked details and could not yet be evaluated.

Trading in the company’s shares was suspended when the news hit last week. Shares of Toshiba, whose sprawling business includes making elevators and railways, shot up on the CVC news and have been trading at nearly 5,000 yen ($46).

CVC is a European private equity firm, based in Luxembourg, which has committed nearly $162 billion in funds, managing more than 300 investors. It has declined to comment on the acquisition proposal or the president’s resignation.

But speculation has been growing other funds may offer better prices.

Kurumatani will be replaced as chief executive and president by his predecessor, Satoshi Tsunakawa, who remained on the board, first as COO and currently chairman.

Tsunakawa oversaw some of the recent financial challenges at Toshiba. Before becoming CEO, in his previous stint from 2016, he had headed Toshiba’s medical systems business, now a group company of Japanese camera and equipment maker Canon.

Tsunakawa told reporters Toshiba was ready to embark on growth as “an infrastructure services company.” He promised to work in the interests of shareholders, employees and society overall, and continue to strengthen governance.

“We stand behind the principle of ‘Do the right thing,’ ” he said, delivering the motto in English.

Toshiba, founded in 1875, was long revered as one of Japan’s respected brands, developing the nation’s first radar and microwaves, electric rice cookers and laptop computers.

It also invented flash memory, the ubiquitous computer chips that store and retain data for digital cameras, cell phones and other gadgets. Toshiba no longer makes laptops, and it has sold its computer chips division.

The company’s fortunes began to crumble over its heavy investment in nuclear power. After the March 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, costs of the business ballooned because of growing safety concerns. Some nations are turning toward sustainable energy.

Toshiba also had massive losses from the nuclear power operations of U.S. manufacturer Westinghouse, which Toshiba acquired in 2006. Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017.

In Japan, Toshiba is decommissioning nuclear plants, including the one in Fukushima, where the tsunami 10 years ago set off multiple reactor meltdowns.

In 2015, Toshiba acknowledged it had been systematically falsifying its books since 2008, as managers tried to meet overly ambitious targets. An outside investigation found it had inflated profits and hid massive expenses.

TOKYO (AP) — BY Yuri Kageyama

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