Abstract

This research examines the intersection between the policy issues and the experiences Iraqis have with cellular broadband connections (CBCs) in rural Iraq. Findings imply that the Iraqi rural broadband policy has failed in the following areas: subsidy, licenses, and tax relief. These failures happen due to favoring private cellular broadband providers (CBPs) over rural public interest. Further, the policy failure affected rural Iraqis in the following aspects: social seclusion, apprehension of missing out, waiting without hope, and limited alternatives. This research brings new information about the Iraqi telecom sector that could contribute to filling the knowledge gap in this field.

Two main crises in Iraq—the appearance of the ISIS in 2014 and the COVID-19 pandemic—forced many rural Iraqi communities to rely on the internet to do their necessary daily activities, such as work or attending school.1 The number of rural Iraqis impacted by these sudden crises is over 11 million, or about 28% of the total Iraqi population of 42 million.2 Further, by the end of 2020, the Ministry of Communication of Iraq estimated that about 85% of rural Iraqis lack cellular broadband connections (CBCs).3 In sum, rural Iraqi communities’ essential daily internet activities are intensely impacted by the lack of a reliable broadband connection.

Rural areas in Iraq suffered from a lack of access to reliable CBCs for many years.4 Similarly to the lack of technology infrastructure such as landline phone service, supplying the rural areas in Iraq with the basic infrastructure for CBCs has been a policy concern over the last decade.5 In the late 1990s, policymakers’ efforts focused on supplying rural areas with infrastructure for landline phone service.6 Over the last decade, rural broadband connectivity has become the main concern for Iraqi policymakers. Unlike urban cities in Iraq, such as Baghdad and Basrah, which enjoy reliable connections,7 rural areas still lack the basic broadband infrastructure.8 The main reason behind the lack of infrastructure is the unwillingness of telecom companies, including the three main ones (Zain, Asiacell, and Korek), to build infrastructure in rural areas due to the high investment costs and low return on profits.9 As the scholar Christopher Ali indicated in regard to this, “Rural broadband is what economists call a ‘market failure’: a socially important service that the private market is unwilling to provide because of a lack of return on investment.”10

After the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003, the three telecommunication companies (Zain, Asiacell, and Korek) started to deploy broadband connections in the main Iraqi cities, including Baghdad, Basrah, Najaf, Karbala, Mosul, Diayla, and Babil.11 The high population density allured these three telecom companies to invest in these urban cities.12 Today, the three telecom companies control about 92% of the mobile market in Iraq, while the remaining 8% is left for small telecom businesses, such as Newroz Telecom and Regional Telecom, to operate also in the main cities.13 However, another major problem that hinders telecom companies from building broadband infrastructure is the geographic location of the rural areas in Iraq. On the map, rural areas are located in the dispersed deserts in Iraq, the Southeast, Mideast, and Northwest parts.14 For many years, the scattered locations in the deserts of the rural communities have made building CBCs infrastructure challenging, especially for the three telecom companies that dominate in Iraq.15

In return, the Iraqi Ministry of Communication focuses on subsidizing the CBPs, including the three main telecom companies, with an annual dedicated amount of money in order to build cellular broadband infrastructure in rural areas.16 These subsidy efforts reveal that the Iraqi government gives special attention to the internet as under the Iraqi constitution, the Ministry of Communications of Iraq must consider the internet infrastructure a public good that all Iraqis must have access to without discrimination.17 However, the Iraqi rural broadband policy appears to favor the private telecommunications sector’s interests over the rural public interest. The Iraqi Ministry of Communication allots about 15 million dollars every year for rural broadband connection deployment.18 Yet, to date, many rural Iraqis lack access to reliable CBCs despite millions of dollars dedicated by the Iraqi government to build broadband connections in rural areas to close the rural–urban broadband accessibility gap.19

Accordingly, relying on analyses of Iraqi telecommunications documents and interviews with participants from five different rural Iraqi communities that lack reliable CBCs, this research examines the connection between the rural cellular broadband policy issues implemented by the Ministry of Communications of Iraq, the body responsible for Iraqi telecommunications regulation, and the experiences of rural Iraqis regarding CBCs. Building on theories of regulatory capture and social isolation, this article argues that the rural Iraqi broadband policy has failed in the following three areas: subsidy, licenses, and tax relief. This failure happens as a result of favoring private CBPs over rural public interest. Further, the failure of the Iraqi rural cellular broadband policy has impacted rural Iraqi communities in the following four aspects: social seclusion, apprehension of missing out, waiting without hope, and limited alternatives.

Due to the dearth of published documents related to the Iraqi telecommunications sector, this article conducts exploratory research to explore the junction between the policy issues and the experiences of rural Iraqis regarding CBCs. It begins with a literature review covering the Iraqi rural broadband connection before discussing the method and theories. It then analyzes the failure of the Iraqi rural cellular broadband policy. Next, it analyzes the experiences of rural Iraqis regarding the service provided by CBCs. Finally, this research concludes with suggestions for modification of the rural cellular broadband policy in Iraq.

Literature Review

Rural Broadband in Iraq

Since 2003, Iraq has suffered from a critical issue represented by the lack of basic infrastructure to supply its rural communities with CBCs.20 At the end of 2020, the Ministry of Communications of Iraq revealed that about 60% of rural Iraqi individuals lacked access to fixed and CBCs due to the lack of infrastructure.21 The Ministry of Communications also reported that rural Iraqis complained about the high subscription prices of cellular broadband, which exceed 85,000 Iraqi dinars or about $65 for 2GB per month.22

Based on the history of the Iraqi telecom sector, the lack of infrastructure in rural areas has been a policy concern since even before 2003. The lack of infrastructure for other services in rural Iraqi communities, such as electricity and telephony, were problems that the Iraqi government had to resolve in the 1980s and 1990s.23 At the end of the 1990s, the Ministry of Communications of Iraq established the Construction and Development of Telecommunications Network project (CDTN) to provide rural communities with landline phone services.24 At the beginning of 2002, the Ministry of Communications of Iraq announced the success of the CDTN project in supplying rural areas with landline phone services.25 However, it is worth mentioning that both economic and political efforts by the former Iraqi government contributed to the success of the CDTN project.26 The right policies that the government had set up helped invest the money to provide rural areas with landline phone service in the right way. In 2009, the lack of reliable CBCs in rural areas began to attract policymakers’ attention.27 Since then, the Ministry of Communications of Iraq and policymakers have been working on finding solutions to supply rural communities with reliable CBCs.

The policy failure issues in the telecom sector are the subject of discussion among economists and telecom policy scholars. For instance, Parker discusses the telecom issues, such as telephony, in rural areas in the United States and attributes them to policy failure.28 Parker’s work pushes for a new wave of scholarly work related to rural telecom issues, not only in the United States but also in many other countries, such as the Middle East. The major body of studies since the 2000s has indicated that Middle Eastern rural areas are underserved with internet service compared with the urban cities.29 The more recent studies shed light on the broadband connectivity issues and their impact on rural communities in the Middle East in many areas, including health services, online education, economic development, and rural communities’ engagements.30

The CBCs in rural Iraq have not been explored by scholars, with the exception of the fixed broadband connections in rural areas of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). Scholars point out the following benefits of providing the rural communities of the KRI with broadband connections: encouraging economic growth, creating jobs, and increasing the rate of education of rural individuals.31 Other scholars shed light on the KRI government’s development plans regarding deploying broadband access to rural communities to offer reliable internet connections for homes and workplaces.32 Further, a few scholars discuss the advantages of allowing foreign telecom companies to invest in broadband projects in the rural areas of KRI.33 Some studies have evaluated the KRI government’s rural broadband policy regarding subsidy programs in rural regions and their effect on the accessibility and affordability of broadband connections.34

These studies’ findings and the research gaps undoubtedly indicate the need for more research on the rural CBCs policy in Iraq. A more in-depth scholarly examination requires exploring the deserted research area in the Iraqi telecommunication sector and its policies. This study aims to fill these information gaps by concentrating on Iraq’s rural CBCs policy and deployment.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that there are several critical challenges hindering widespread and reliable internet access in Iraq, particularly in rural areas. These challenges, independent of specific sources, include the absence of reliable electricity in many rural areas, which significantly impacts internet access, causing disruptions that affect the quality of service and exacerbate challenges for individuals and businesses.35 Moreover, a notable reliance on 2G service in rural areas limits mobile internet access, prompting questions about potential connections to broader issues related to technological standards and licensing.36 The issue of internet smuggling further compounds challenges, diverting funds away from the national budget and affecting the overall accessibility of internet services.37 Additional insights into Iraq’s internet landscape encompass challenges related to unclear pricing policies, diverse internet packages with variable pricing, disparities in service quality and affordability between major cities and rural areas, and persistent reliance on 2G technology in certain regions. These considerations contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the contextual factors influencing internet access in Iraq, particularly in rural settings. This study explores some of these challenges within the broader framework of rural CBC policies.

Iraqi CBC Penetration: A Shift in Policy

Understanding the efficacy of Iraqi telecommunication policies, particularly in relation to CBC penetration, necessitates a detailed examination of how CBC access has evolved over time. This section provides a thorough review of the changes in penetration rates and pricing, shedding light on the effectiveness of these policies. Additionally, it provides a comparative perspective by assessing rural access growth rates in Iraq compared with neighboring nations.

Rural Access Growth and Penetration Rate: Before and After Policy Implementation

To evaluate the impact of policy changes on CBC penetration in Iraq, it is crucial to assess the growth rate of rural access to CBCs both before and after the implementation of these policies. Before 2009, Iraqi telecommunication policies emphasized regulatory oversight of private telecom companies, focusing strongly on expanding access to rural and underserved areas.38 During this period, the growth rate of rural access to CBCs was commendable, reaching 58%.39 These policies compelled telecom companies to invest in rural broadband infrastructure, contributing to improved connectivity in remote regions. In contrast, the period following 2009 saw a shift toward more liberalized policies that favored market-driven growth and competition among service providers. Consequently, the growth rate of rural access to CBCs witnessed a marked decline, dropping to 26%.40

This decline in growth rates indicates a shift in policy priorities away from rural development toward a more market-oriented approach. While liberalization aimed to stimulate competition and innovation, it had unintended consequences for rural communities. Telecom companies, now facing fewer regulations and obligations to serve rural areas, redirected their investments toward urban centers, where returns on investment were more lucrative. This shift left rural communities with limited options and exacerbated the digital divide between urban and rural areas.

Additionally, considering the overall penetration rate for Iraq as a whole provides a more comprehensive understanding of the CBC landscape. Before 2009, the overall penetration rate stood at 47%, reflecting the collective reach of CBCs across the country. However, after the policy shift in 2009, the overall penetration rate declined to 31%, underscoring the impact of the changing regulatory landscape on CBC coverage nationwide.41

This decrease in the overall penetration rate aligns with the observed decline in the growth rate of rural access, raising concerns about the affordability of services for rural residents. As telecom companies sought higher profits in urban markets, rural areas were left underserved and subject to higher subscription fees. This pricing disparity has made it challenging for many rural Iraqis to access CBCs, exacerbating their digital isolation.

Iraq versus Neighboring Nations

To gain deeper insights into CBC penetration in rural Iraq, a comparative analysis with neighboring Middle Eastern countries is essential. Comparing growth rates and access levels before and after policy shifts and with similar nations provides a robust basis for assessment. As of 2022, Iraq’s growth rate of rural access to CBCs stands at 26%. However, the overall penetration rate for Iraq as a whole, was noted to be 47% before 2009, declining to 31% after the policy shift in 2009.42 In stark contrast, Saudi Arabia records a significantly higher penetration rate of 86%.43 This substantial disparity underscores the challenges faced by rural Iraqis in accessing CBC services compared with their Saudi Arabian counterparts. Further, Kuwait, another neighboring nation, boasts an even higher growth rate, with a CBC penetration rate of 29%.44 This comparison highlights Iraq’s relative lag in providing rural communities with access to CBCs. Lastly, Qatar presents the most impressive growth rate in rural access to CBCs among the compared nations, with a CBC penetration rate registering at 96%.45 This demonstrates that neighboring nations in the Middle East have made significant strides in rural CBC penetration, outpacing Iraq.

In sum, CBC penetration in Iraq reveals that policy shifts from regulatory oversight to a more market-oriented approach have had a tangible impact on access growth rates. The decline in rural access growth rates suggests that a focus on liberalization may have come at the expense of rural development and equitable access to CBC services. The comparative analysis with neighboring nations underscores the challenges faced by rural Iraqis in accessing CBC services. Iraq’s lower penetration rates compared with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar indicate the need for a policy realignment that prioritizes rural development and equitable access. A more balanced approach, considering both market dynamics and rural welfare, is essential to foster inclusive and equitable digital connectivity in Iraq.

Regulatory Capture

Since the war broke out in 2003, many policies and regulations have changed or have been modified in various sectors, including communication.46 The new changes in Iraqi policies and regulations moved toward deregulating the private market.47 Many scholars have argued that the changed or modified policies and regulations after 2003 have favored the private market side, not for the goal of serving the Iraqis’ interests.48 For instance, the new policies favor the private market and fail to address critical problems required by the Iraqis, such as accessing necessary services like technology.49 The Iraqi telecommunication sector has also failed with its new policies, especially regarding addressing the requirements of the citizens, such as the need for CBCs in rural areas. Even though the Iraqi constitution states that internet infrastructure is regarded as a public good that must be utilized by Iraqis,50 the rural broadband policies appear to favor the private telecom sector instead of the rural Iraqis.

Carpenter and Moss stated that regulatory capture theory is “the result or process by which regulation, in law or application, is consistently or repeatedly directed away from the public interest and toward the interests of the regulated industry, by the intent and action of the industry itself.”51 Furthermore, Horwitz indicated that regulatory capture happens when government officials shield the interests of the private telecommunication sector, as in the instance of how AT&T’s interests in the United States were protected by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policies until 1980.52 Additionally, regulatory capture theory has also been linked to policy failure by many scholars. Ali noted that “at its broadest, policy failure, or more specifically, regulatory failure, occurs when established policies and regulations fail to accomplish a stated goal. For instance, regulation, which is meant to uphold the public interest, fails when it is captured by industry interests.”53 Based on the literature on regulatory capture, this research falls within the path of Carpenter and Moss and Ali, which the state officials and private telecom sector view as a chronic issue that goes against the public interests.

Social Isolation

Social isolation theory serves as a valuable lens through which to analyze the experiences of rural Iraqis who lack access to CBCs. This theory highlights the potential consequences of limited social contact, which often manifests as feelings of loneliness and isolation.54 In the context of rural Iraq, where CBC access is scarce, this theory helps shed light on the challenges faced by individuals who are socially disconnected from those in more connected urban areas.

Scholars have employed social isolation theory to delve into the factors contributing to the isolation of communities deprived of broadband connectivity. For instance, Reddick’s research discusses indicators of isolation prevalent in rural areas without access to broadband services.55 By examining the intersections between policy decisions and their impact on socially isolated groups, social isolation theory can reveal unintended consequences resulting from policy choices. Reddick’s findings underscore that feelings of social isolation may not be an intentional outcome but can emerge due to social processes or misguided policy decisions.

In essence, social isolation theory provides a framework to investigate how the digital divide and limited access to CBCs can lead to isolation among rural Iraqis. It offers insights into the broader implications of policy decisions on social cohesion and underscores the importance of considering the social dimensions of connectivity in policymaking. Researchers can utilize this theory to gain a deeper understanding of the nuanced challenges faced by rural communities and advocate for policies that address not only technological disparities but also the social consequences of such disparities. Furthermore, social isolation theory prompts us to explore potential remedies for the issues of loneliness and isolation stemming from limited CBC access in rural areas. Understanding the social dimensions of connectivity challenges allows policymakers to develop more holistic and effective strategies. These strategies may include community-based initiatives that encourage social interactions within rural areas, promoting local engagement and reducing the sense of isolation. Additionally, it highlights the importance of policies that prioritize equitable access to CBCs not only to achieve economic and educational objectives but also to ensure that rural residents can partake in the social fabric of the digital age. The insights offered by social isolation theory can help policymakers work toward bridging the digital divide while fostering social inclusion and cohesion in rural communities.

With the literature discussed in this article in mind, social isolation theory will be used as a theoretical framework in this research to explore the experiences of rural Iraqi communities regarding CBCs. The social isolation theoretical framework can also help examine the junction between policy issues and the experiences of rural Iraqi communities. In particular, social isolation theory could explain the social issues rural Iraqis experience, resulting from decisions represented by the existing policies that favor private market interests over the public interest. This study follows the direction of Henriksen and Reddick and uses social isolation theory to explore the consequences of the lack of reliable CBCs in rural Iraqi communities, especially the social isolation resulting from the absence of social contact.

Despite the general consensus over the direct potential impact of rural broadband policies in different countries on rural communities in many aspects of their lives, the Iraqi telecommunication sector is still lacking in this area. To fill this research gap, by building on theories of regulatory capture and social isolation, this study raises the following two questions regarding broadband policy issues and the experience of rural Iraqis with CBCs:

  • RQ1: What are the key policy priorities of Iraqi cellular providers in regard to connectivity in rural Iraq?

  • RQ2: How does the Iraqi rural broadband policy compare with the experiences of rural Iraqis in regard to cellular broadband access?

Method

The article conducted a thematic coding analysis to address the two research questions concerned with key policy priorities of Iraqi cellular providers and the experiences of rural Iraqis regarding CBCs. Thematic coding analysis centers on the identification of patterns and themes of a specific subject.56 In addition, thematic coding analysis is:

A rather basic yet flexible tool. At the heart of it lies a process called coding: the gradual development of labels and their application to segments of potentially relevant data. This categorization can be done inductively, aiming to generate new theory emerging from the data analysed (bottom-up).57

To address the two research questions, this article relies on two main methods: In regard to RQ1, related to the key policy priorities of Iraqi cellular providers, this article conducts an analysis of documents of the Iraqi Ministry of Communication regarding the rural broadband connectivity policies in the period between 2010 and 2021. This article analyzed the National Internet Project (NIP), which is considered the main rural broadband policy.58 In this research, an extensive analysis of the NIP policies was conducted to gain a comprehensive understanding of the policy landscape surrounding rural broadband initiatives in Iraq. The NIP policies document, comprising approximately 455 pages, represent a significant body of regulatory and operational guidelines formulated by the Ministry of Communication of Iraq to promote CBC in rural areas of the country. NIP policies were chosen for this study because they considered the main actions taken by the Iraqi Ministry of Communication, aimed at providing rural Iraqi areas with reliable CBCs, in addition to bridging the urban–rural digital divide in regard to broadband connections. These policies also epitomize a comprehensive history of rural broadband policies from 2010 to 2021 that demonstrates the shift in the broadband policies from restrictions to liberalizing the private market.59 Further, the NIP policies represent a critical response to the pressing need for improved CBC connectivity in rural Iraqi regions. As part of the broader NIP project, these policies were strategically designed to facilitate the expansion of CBC services to underserved and remote areas, addressing the digital divide that separates urban and rural communities.

The research began with identifying certain words in the bulk of policy scripts. Particular codes are then created for these words. These codes were combined to generate themes that formed the argument of this article.60 Originally, fourteen different themes were developed from the coding process, such as “mobile providers broadband,” “telecommunication carriers,” and “private broadband infrastructure.” Three main themes resulted: subsidies, licenses, and tax relief. These themes were analyzed to understand the key policy priorities of Iraqi CBPs when it comes to connectivity in rural Iraq.

Second, to answer RQ2, related to the experiences of rural Iraqis regarding cellular broadband access, this article conducted online interviews in rural residential areas of different counties: Ramdai County, Al Anbar City; Rumaitha County, Al Muthanna City; Boquba County, Diyala City; Kut County, Waist City; and Dhi Qar County, Al Nasiriyah City. These five counties were selected because of their rural location and the lack of reliable CBCs there. Additionally, the Ministry of Communication of Iraq labeled these counties as areas lacking accessibility to reliable broadband connection.61 The interviews helped the researcher to examine “the meaning of the participants’ words and actions”62 by allowing the participants to tell their stories in detail instead of directly answering the questions. Initially, posts were created in Facebook community groups of nine counties in Iraq, illustrating the study and calling for participants. Participants from only five counties responded to the call for this study.

In this qualitative research, a snowball sampling approach was employed to gather participants for the study. Snowball sampling is a nonprobability sampling technique widely used in qualitative research, particularly when studying hard-to-reach populations or exploring sensitive topics.63 This method involved initially identifying participants who are relevant to this research from the five rural counties. After interviewing or engaging with these initial participants, they were asked to refer other individuals who might have valuable insights or experiences related to this research topic. This process continues, with each participant referring others, creating a snowball effect. Snowball sampling is beneficial in qualitative research for several reasons.64 First, it is especially useful when studying hidden or marginalized populations where traditional random sampling methods are impractical.65 Second, it facilitates access to participants who may be reluctant to come forward, ensuring a diverse range of perspectives.66 Lastly, it can help build trust and rapport with participants, as they are referred by individuals they know or trust, leading to more open and candid responses during interviews or data collection.67

This process resulted in interviews with nineteen Iraqi rural residents, thirteen of whom were male and six female. Their ages ranged from eighteen to sixty-four, with an average age of thirty-eight. In terms of educational background, five participants had completed primary education, seven had secondary education, and seven had higher education degrees. In regard to occupation, the participants had a varied range of roles: four students, five farmers, three retirees, two health care workers, and five individuals engaged in various other professions.

Particular words and phrases are identified from the interviews, which are then coded by the researcher. These codes combine to form themes related to the experiences of rural Iraqis regarding CBCs. The following are the four main themes resulting from the coding processes: social seclusion, apprehension of missing out, waiting without hope, and limited alternatives. This article argues that the failure of three components of Iraqi rural broadband policy on CBC (subsidy, licenses, and tax relief) has impacted the experience of the Iraqi communities in rural areas, who are unintentionally socially isolated due to the lack of reliable CBCs services, unlike urban communities.

Cellular Broadband Policy Findings

The following three findings, namely, subsidy, licenses, and tax relief, address RQ1 on the key policy priorities of Iraqi CBPs.

Subsidy

One of the priorities of the Ministry of Communication of Iraq regarding the policies governing CBCs in rural areas is to focus on subsidy programs to help CBPs offer broadband access in rural communities. The National Service Fund (NSF), administrated by the Executive Body of the Iraqi Ministry of Communication (EBIMC), is considered the marquee vehicle for the Iraqi rural broadband subsidy. The NSF is considering a subsidy initiated under the NIP mainly to help the CBPs with their operational expenses, including, but not limited to, building broadband infrastructure in rural areas in order to provide accessibility to rural communities for broadband connection. The NSF also aims to support the CBPs in offering CBCs in rural areas close to health care centers and schools. In 2014, before the appearance of ISIS, the EBIMC distributed $12.3 million to support the deployment of cellular broadband in rural areas through the following three programs:

  1. Connect Rural Communities Fund (CBPs building infrastructure in isolated rural communities): $6.3 million;

  2. Connect Rural Health Centers (CBPs providing broadband access in rural areas located close to hospitals): $4 million;

  3. Rural Schools Fund (CBPs supplying cellular broadband coverage to areas close to rural schools): $2 million.68

The subsidy plan of the aforementioned three programs faced challenges caused by the unstable security situation in some Iraqi cities, associated with the appearance of ISIS between 2014 and 2017. Deploying cellular broadband in rural areas was hard due to the insecure situation in cities like Alanbar, Mosul, and Diyala; other, safe rural areas, such as those in Al Muthanna City, Waist City, and Al Nasiriyah City, could have had cellular broadband deployed at that time. Further, the major CBPs in Iraq used the security situation as an excuse to justify their delay in deploying CBCs in rural areas. However, a close look at the situation shows that it was hard to make progress in deploying CBCs in the period from 2014 to 2017 only in rural areas of Alanbar, Mosul, and Diyala. Yet all the other rural areas should have had CBCs deployed by CBPs. Also, even though the security situation was unstable in all rural areas in Iraq because of ISIS, by the beginning of 2017, all of the Iraqi cities occupied by ISIS became secure, and these areas came back to life. Therefore, CBPs should have continued deploying broadband internet in these rural areas from 2017 to 2022. Instead, CBPs used the subsidy money allocated for rural broadband to build more infrastructure in urban areas due to the higher return on investment in urban areas than in rural ones. CBPs claim that due to the unstable security situation in rural areas, they built more cellular broadband infrastructure in urban cities than in rural regions. Based on the recent NIP report by EBIMC, between 2015 and 2021, telecom firms spent $170 million on deploying CBCs in two of the main cities, Baghdad and Basra,69 which already had reliable fixed and CBCs since 2010.70 Besides, in 2014, the Ministry of Communications of Iraq declared that Baghdad and Basra enjoyed reliable, fixed CBCs and that the issues related to the quality of the internet, such as speed and steadiness, had been eliminated in these two cities.71

A notable instance of telecommunication carriers influencing policy revisions in Iraq’s CBC landscape revolves around the subsidy allocation for rural broadband infrastructure. Under the current CBC policy framework, subsidies intended for building infrastructure in rural areas lack oversight concerning the precise amounts withdrawn for these projects. In 2009, policy changes were implemented for CBCs, shifting toward a less restrictive framework for private telecom companies to attract investors and enhance connectivity in rural Iraqi areas.72 In stark contrast, previous CBC policies imposed stringent regulations on telecom companies, prescribing specific guidelines and close monitoring when utilizing subsidies for rural expansion projects.73 This shift is evident in the NIP, particularly under section 4 of the current CBC policies for rural areas, which opens up subsidies without the previously mandated regulations. This adjustment signifies a departure from previous practices, potentially allowing greater discretion for telecom companies in allocating subsidy funds, thereby raising questions about transparency and equitable resource distribution. Such policy changes underscore the need for a comprehensive evaluation of the CBC regulatory framework to ensure that public subsidies are deployed effectively and in the best interests of rural communities.

One key flaw in the written Iraqi rural broadband policy emerged when the EBIMC altered its stance on the use of subsidies. Initially, the policy mandated providers to allocate subsidies exclusively for rural investments, aligning with the objective of bridging the digital divide in underserved regions. However, following the interpretations and demands presented by the major telecom companies, namely, Zain, Asiacell, and Korek, this policy underwent a significant shift. The lobbying efforts of these telecom giants led to the revision of the policy, allowing providers to divert subsidies toward urban investments. Consequently, the change in interpretation and policy direction by EBIMC contributed to a redirection of resources away from rural areas, raising concerns about the influence wielded by telecom companies in shaping the regulatory landscape.

This shift in policy orientation led to a significant redirection of resources. When EBIMC did not impose restrictions on telecommunication companies, including CBPs, regarding the use of funds allocated for rural broadband projects, the result was evident. More broadband infrastructure was constructed in major cities characterized by high population density, such as Baghdad and Basra, as these urban areas promised greater profitability compared with rural regions. This allocation of resources away from underserved rural communities reflects a critical flaw in the policy framework. The subsidy intended to bolster rural broadband connectivity was not effectively utilized by the CBPs, raising questions about their priorities. As long as the rural broadband policies continue to tilt in favor of the private market, represented by CBPs, the disparity in cellular broadband infrastructure development between major cities and rural communities is likely to persist. This scenario highlights the pressing need for a policy realignment that prioritizes equitable access and development in underserved regions.

Licenses

The relaxation in laws and regulations of the Ministry of Communications of Iraq for the private telecom sector appears to be a priority focus after 2003. Issuing licenses to the CBPs in rural areas is a good example of such relaxation. In particular, the Ministry of Communications of Iraq eased giving licenses to CBPs who wanted to invest in rural areas, including the Midwest and Southeast cities’ rural areas, which suffered from a lack of access to reliable CBCs. The Ministry of Communications demonstrated that loosening the regulations on licenses for CBPs in rural areas, as part of an incentivized investments plan, could encourage CBPs to build more networks in urban cities than in rural areas.

Also, the current rural broadband policies do not require specific technology licenses from CBPs. The rural broadband policies do not require CBPs to use specific technologies for deploying broadband connections in order to obtain spectrum licenses. Instead, spectrum licenses are given to CBPs without any specifications on the types of technology used for broadband connections. The Ministry justified this freedom in technology licenses by illustrating that CBPs would, first, be able to use new technologies to deploy broadband connections to provide a wide range of access in rural areas and, second, have more options from a variety of technologies with different costs.74

The current license policies did not incentivize new CBPs, other than the three major ones (Zain, Asiacell, and Korek), to enter the market to provide CBCs in rural communities in Iraq. The main issue with the license policies in rural areas is the lack of a comprehensive framework that could govern the operations of CBPs. The license policies regarding CBPs in rural areas not only lack clarity but also fail to provide essential guidelines that are crucial for fostering healthy competition, ensuring quality service, and safeguarding the interests of rural residents. Several critical areas where this framework deficiency is evident include:

  1. Ability to Modify and Terminate Licenses: The absence of provisions outlining the conditions under which licenses can be modified or terminated leaves both the regulatory authorities and CBPs in a state of uncertainty. This lack of clarity can hinder necessary adjustments in the licenses to adapt to evolving technological and market conditions.

  2. Specifications on Licensee Rights: Rural broadband licenses should clearly outline the rights and responsibilities of licensees, ensuring that they operate within defined parameters and in alignment with national policy objectives. Without well-defined licensee rights, there’s a risk of arbitrary decision-making and potential disputes between CBPs and regulatory authorities.

  3. Obligations and Fee License Categories for CBPs: To encourage investment and competition in rural areas, it’s imperative that license policies stipulate the obligations of CBPs, such as service coverage targets, service quality standards, and contribution to universal access goals. Additionally, a structured fee license categorization system would help ensure that CBPs pay fees commensurate with their operations’ scale, preventing market distortions.

  4. Individual and Class Licenses: A well-structured licensing framework should offer flexibility by allowing for both individual and class licenses. Individual licenses are tailored to specific CBPs, while class licenses could apply to a category of service providers with similar characteristics, reducing administrative burdens and streamlining the licensing process.

  5. Specific Measures for Issuing Licenses: Licensing policies should outline the precise procedures and criteria for issuing licenses to CBPs. These measures could include technical and financial requirements, which would serve as a basis for evaluating CBP eligibility.

  6. Distinction Between Spectrum Licenses and Network Licenses: Clear differentiation between spectrum licenses and network licenses is essential to delineate the rights and responsibilities of CBPs. Spectrum licenses relate to the allocation of specific frequency bands, while network licenses involve the deployment and operation of network infrastructure. Defining these distinctions helps in preventing spectrum hoarding and ensuring efficient spectrum utilization.

The transformation of Iraqi CBC policies over time underscores the growing influence of major telecom companies, a trend that raises concerns about regulatory capture by the private market. In earlier iterations, these policies imposed specific technological requirements for deploying broadband connections, coupled with obligations and fees to secure spectrum licenses.75 However, around 2008, Zain, Asiacell, and Korek, the dominant players in the Iraqi telecom landscape, jointly lobbied for the removal of these regulations and licensing requirements, particularly in the context of rural CBC deployment.76 Responding to their appeals, the Ministry of Communication of Iraq initiated revisions to the CBC policies.77 The outcome was a relaxation of these regulations and policies, as observed in the current revised CBC policies. This shift toward a more lenient regulatory environment, driven by the telecom companies’ interests, raises questions about the potential capture of the regulatory framework by private market players. It underscores the need for vigilant oversight and policy measures that balance private sector growth with the broader public interest, especially the equitable provision of services to rural communities.

The current licensing policies of the Ministry of Communications of Iraq regarding CBPs in rural areas need to have more clear and strict rules and regulations governing the private sector instead of focusing on issuing less regulated licenses. The problem lies in the fact that the current CBC policies’ focus on providing options works for private sector interests, not rural residents’ interests. Apparently, focusing on incentivizing the private market by giving less regulated licenses for providing CBCs in rural areas does not seem an ideal option for providing rural Iraqi residents with CBCs. Unfortunately, the focus and priorities of the current Ministry of Communications of Iraq regarding the CBCs in rural areas serve the private sector rather than the rural public interest, hindering the efforts to offer reliable CBCs.

Tax Relief

The third main priority of the current CBC policies in rural areas of the NIP is focusing on decreasing or entirely removing specific taxes on the CBPs. The Ministry of Communications of Iraq illustrates that reducing or removing specific taxes on the CBPs could have two direct impacts. First, it could incentivize new CBPs to offer services in rural areas in Iraq; second, it could impact the affordability of the CBCs for rural Iraqi residents.78 In the last decade, the Ministry of Communications of Iraq put in place a strategy to attract more CBPs to rural areas by implementing the NIP policies, lifting the tax burden from the telecom carriers that operated in rural areas.79 The current CBC policies for rural areas offer the following: They remove the cities’/districts’ public utility taxes (e.g., access and utility fees), and they reduce the taxes on the CBPs’ sales and space occupation. In addition, they exempt the CBPs from paying about 2% of the total annual tax collection payments.80 Besides, the current CBC policies accept payment by installment for the total amounts of the annual taxes the CBPs owe.81 Moreover, the Ministry of Communications of Iraq hoped that all of this tax relief would facilitate the offering of affordable CBC subscription prices to rural Iraqi residents.82

The outcome of the tax relief that the Ministry of Communications of Iraq offers through the CBC policies in the NIP is that only three large telecom carriers that offer CBCs operate in rural Iraqi areas (i.e., Zain, Asiacell, and Korek). Based on the annual NIP report of 2021, which is dependent on data provided by internet service providers and telecom carriers through the Annual Broadband Deployment form, more than 68% of rural areas lack CBCs.83 The current focus of CBCs is on only helping CBPs reduce their taxes, with no guarantees of offering more CBC accessibility in rural areas. Further, the current CBC policies’ focus is on price affordability ahead of providing CBC accessibility for rural Iraqis. The current tax relief policies might help provide reliable CBC subscription prices in the long run after providing accessibility to CBCs through CBPs. The 2021 NIP report reveals that many urban areas have CBCs, while the majority of rural areas still lack access to CBCs despite the efforts put into the NIP to incentivize CBPs to offer access in the latter areas.84Figure 1 shows the remaining rural areas without CBC access and the urban areas with CBCs mentioned in the NIP report.

Figure 1 The red stars show the rural communities left without CBCs, and the blue dots indicate the urban areas with CBCs, based on the NIP report of 2021. Note that the KRI area, which is located in the northern part of Iraq, is not presented in this image because the communication sector is run and operated separately from the central government in Baghdad.

Figure 1 The red stars show the rural communities left without CBCs, and the blue dots indicate the urban areas with CBCs, based on the NIP report of 2021. Note that the KRI area, which is located in the northern part of Iraq, is not presented in this image because the communication sector is run and operated separately from the central government in Baghdad.

Close modal

Findings on Rural Iraqis’ Broadband Experiences

The following four findings address rural Iraqis’ experiences with broadband connections: social seclusion, apprehension of missing out, waiting without hope, and limited alternatives.

Social Seclusion

Social seclusion appears to be a common issue among the rural Iraqi participants in this study. In particular, due to the lack of reliable CBCs, many rural Iraqis explained that they lack social contact with their friends and families who live in other cities in Iraq or in foreign countries. The rural Iraqi participants also explained that they rely more on CBCs than on fixed broadband connections to talk with others due to a lack of access to the latter in their areas. Further, the participants mentioned that their feeling of social seclusion derives principally from the intermittent and slow nature of the CBCs, hindering them from making video or voice calls. A rural participant in his midthirties from Rumaitha County mentioned the following:

In our rural areas, we rely on mobile internet to contact friends, family, and relatives in the provinces of Iraq, as well as those who live abroad. But in fact, the mobile internet services are very weak and intermittent, which makes me feel lonely and socially secluded from others. I cannot talk to others because of poor internet services.

Many other rural Iraqis indicated that they feel disconnected and lack a sense of belongingness with others due to the lack of reliable CBCs. Besides, they rely on CBCs to talk with others to know and discuss the latest national news about the country. Yet the poor CBCs present a challenge. A young rural Iraqi in his early twenties from Dhi Qar County said this:

I feel that I am socially secluded and cannot speak with others to know the latest news and developments pertaining to the country. In fact, due to the poor internet services through cell phones, I and many members of our rural community feel a loss of a sense of belonging to Iraqi society.

The other major issue among the rural Iraqi participants is they believe that they are excluded from the services of CBCs. In particular, the participants indicated that they don’t have cellular broadband services in their rural areas like the ones offered in the big cities like Baghdad and Basra. Thus, the participants believe that they are excluded from CBC services. A twenty-three-year-old participant from Kut County mentioned, “We feel excluded from cellular internet services in rural areas. They do not provide us with cellular internet services like those provided in big cities, Baghdad and Basrah.”

In general, most of the participants in this study indicated that they have a limited number of friends and acquaintances to talk to via the internet due to the poor CBCs available in their rural areas. Consequently, the participants feel they are in a state of social seclusion. This social seclusion and exclusion from cellular broadband services that the participants indicated is a result of the failure of the rural broadband policy that aimed to address rural community issues. Instead of serving rural Iraqis’ interests by providing them with reliable CBCs to encourage social engagement, the rural broadband policy is captured by private CBPs interests. The CBPs took advantage of the current cellular broadband policies, which focus on relieving tax payments, subsidizing the private market with money without restrictions, and easing the obtaining of licenses. These policies led CBPs to build more infrastructure in big cities to offer more reliable CBCs, while rural communities remain in a state of social isolation and exclusion from broadband services. As scholar Reddick indicates, social seclusion and exclusion from services might occur due to the unplanned results of wrong policy decision-making.85

Apprehension of Missing Out

Many rural residents have expressed concerns that the poor cellular internet services in their rural areas negatively affect their social lives. In particular, many of the rural participants in this study indicated that they would like to be in constant contact with others through cellular internet services because they don’t want to miss out on information or events due to a lack of access to reliable CBCs. Further, residents of rural areas explained that they constantly checked their cellular internet services to see whether they would be able to access social networking sites and avoid losing social contact. A rural participant in her late 20s from Dhi Qar County stated, “I am checking my cellular internet service constantly to be able to access my social media accounts like Facebook and Instagram to avoid losing social relationships with the people that I know.”

Many other rural Iraqi participants in this study also indicated that they relied heavily on the cellular internet service and that they often felt apprehensive about missing the news, TV shows, or educational information when the internet could not be accessed through their cellphones. A twenty-year-old participant from Rumaitha County mentioned,

In fact, I and many of my friends who live in my rural area have a fear of missing TV programs or even information about the university because we are unable to obtain reliable cellular internet services. In fact, we rely heavily on cellular internet services to obtain such information.

Many other participants expressed their fear of missing out on better options similar to those offered in urban areas by CBCs. For instance, rural Iraqis indicated that they were afraid of missing options to subscribe to a CBC that would enable them to engage with society by offering reliable cellular internet services. A forty-eight-year-old rural participant from Baqubah County mentioned, “I have a fear that we are missing good internet service options that are provided to the residents of the big cities, which thus affect many of the activities of our daily lives in rural areas.” In general, the Iraqi rural residents that participated in this study indicated that they had apprehensions about missing out on many important events and information due to the lack of reliable CBCs in their areas.

Waiting without Hope

The majority of the rural Iraqi participants in this study indicate that they are waiting without hope for the improvement of the CBCs in their rural areas. Rural Iraqis state that they have been waiting for more than a decade for the government to find solutions to deliver reliable CBCs in their rural communities but that nothing has changed so far. A fifty-three-year-old rural resident of Rumaitha County said:

For more than a decade, we have been waiting for the improvement of cellular broadband services in rural areas, but we have not noticed any tangible improvement in these services. There are projects undertaken by the state in order to provide good broadband services, but until this moment, no good internet services have been provided, neither in our region nor even in the neighboring rural areas. Therefore, we are still waiting for the improvement of internet services in rural areas, but without hope until this moment.

Many other participants mention that they are frustrated from waiting for the CBCs. “I and many friends and families in Dhi Qar County are frustrated with the long wait for the improvement of high-speed internet services through the cellphones in our rural areas,” a thirty-six-year-old participant from Dhi Qar County said. Further, many other rural Iraqi participants in this study mention that they do not trust the promises of the Iraqi government regarding the improvement of the CBCs’ service in their rural areas. A forty-five-year-old participant from Dhi Qar County said:

The Iraqi government, including the Ministry of Communications, has made many promises to provide and improve cellular internet services in our rural areas, but these promises have never been fulfilled until this moment. There is no improvement at this moment. We have lost hope that cellular internet services will improve in the future because we simply do not trust the promises made by the Iraqi government to us.

Many other rural participants indicated that they have to wait for the CBCs in their rural areas to improve due to a lack of alternatives. A twenty-four-year-old participant from Rumaitha County said, “There are no other choices rather than waiting to improve the cellular broadband in Rumaitha. We have to wait for the government and politicians to work on improving the cellular broadband service in our area.” A thirty-three-year-old participant from Dhi Qar County said, “We have one irreplaceable option to improve the cellular internet service in our rural areas, and that is to wait.”

The NIP policy implementation failure of the Ministry of Communications of Iraq is the main reason for rural Iraqis’ hopeless wait for reliable CBCs in their areas. Despite the dedicated money and efforts invested more than a decade ago to offer reliable CBC services in rural areas, many rural Iraqis indicated that they are yet to see any improvements in cellular internet services. The problem lies in the fact that the rural broadband policy serves the private sector (i.e., telecom carriers) rather than rural Iraqis. Consequently, rural Iraqis still have to deal with chronic long waits without hope for improvements in the CBCs.

Limited Alternatives

One of the major challenges that rural Iraqis face regarding the CBCs is the limited options of CBPs in their areas. The majority of the rural Iraqi participants in this study mentioned that Zain, Asiacell, and Korek are the only operators offering CBC services in their communities. The participants indicated that these three telecom carriers have operated in their areas for more than a decade without any competition and that they dominate and control the CBC prices and services offered in rural areas. A forty-three-year-old rural participant from Rumaitha County summarized this problem by saying:

For more than a decade, the three telecommunications companies, Zain, Korek, and Asiacell, have been providing cellular broadband service in our rural areas. Unfortunately, we do not have a fourth option that could provide us with cellular broadband service in our rural communities, and herein lies the problem. These three companies are in control of the prices and services of the cellular broadband they provide in our rural areas.

As rural participants indicated, the oligopolistic control of these three telecom carriers resulted in the offering of high subscription prices and bad CBC services to rural communities. The majority of the rural Iraqi participants in this study indicated that these three telecom companies offered high subscription prices and slow and intermittent CBCs in their areas. A thirty-one-year-old rural participant from Dhi Qar County stated, “Zain, Asiacell, and Korek provide slow and intermittent cellular internet services in addition to high subscription fees that we cannot afford.” A twenty-six-year-old participant from Kut County said, “I and many of my friends and acquaintances in rural areas can’t afford the cellular internet subscription fees. This is really challenging for us.”

Rural Iraqi participants in this study stated that they had appealed to the Iraqi government to find a solution to the dominance of the three CBPs and their high prices and bad services, but nothing has changed so far. Most of the rural Iraqi participants indicated that they were interested in seeing more CBP options with lower subscription prices and better services in their rural communities. Yet the rural Iraqi participants in this study illustrated that they were frustrated because the government officials had not responded in their interest. A fifty-three-year-old rural participant from Baqubah County mentions:

We in rural areas are interested in reliable cellular internet services at cheap prices with better services and from different cellular broadband companies, not only the three that operate now: Zain, Asiacell, and Korek. We have appealed to the Iraqi government, including officials in the Ministry of Communications, to fulfill our demands, but we have not found any response so far. We are completely dissatisfied because the Iraqi government does not care about our interests and requirements.

The answers of the rural Iraqi participants in this study illustrate the consequences of the failure of the rural broadband policy that favor the private telecom sector (CBPs) over the public interest (rural Iraqis) regarding having access to reliable CBCs with low subscription prices with multiple CBP options. The main priorities that the Iraqi broadband connection focused on are the following: tax relief, ease in obtaining licenses, and subsidy for CBPs without control. These are clearly major aspects that serve the interests of the three telecom carriers (Zain, Asiacell, and Korek) rather than those of the rural Iraqis. Furthermore, the oligopoly among the three telecom companies and their control over the prices and services are obvious results; this reveals how the broadband policies serve the private market but do not fulfill the rural Iraqis’ demand and interest. Without clear and strict policies regulating the private telecom sector, the three CBPs will continue to dominate the prices and services in rural areas at the expense of the interests of rural Iraqis.

Conclusion

This study demonstrates that the Iraqi rural broadband policy favors the telecom industry (i.e., CBPs) rather than the interests of rural Iraqis demanding reliable CBCs. The Iraqi rural broadband policy favors CBPs in the following three areas: subsidies, licenses, and tax relief. These three areas reflect where the Iraqi broadband policy fails to handle the rural CBCs issue and has a direct impact on the experience of rural Iraqis in terms of having reliable CBCs service, which will enable them to be socially connected with their friends and families domestically and internationally. The rural broadband policy has left rural Iraqis feeling socially isolated and waiting without hope for reliable CBCs. Besides, the broadband policy has also left rural communities in fear of missing out on important information or events due to a lack of access to CBCs in their areas. Further, the policy has resulted in limited CBP options that offer CBCs in rural communities, resulting in the current state of high prices and poor services.

This study aimed to unveil the Iraqi telecom sector issues that have suffered from a dearth of research by scholars. This study nourishes the telecom sector with a rare and unique examination of the junction between the Iraqi rural broadband policy and the experience of rural Iraqis with CBC connections. The information provided by this study supports future researchers in examining the critical problems of the broadband policy, its deployment, and its effect on the waiting experience of rural communities. Besides, this article encourages scholars to study the Iraqi telecom sector, which suffers from a dearth of research, and address critical issues, mainly regarding the rural broadband policy.

The Iraqi broadband policy favors the CBPs, and the latter failed to deliver CBCs to rural Iraqi communities. In order to close this gap, a reconstruction of the Iraqi rural broadband policy from the ground up is needed. This research suggests the following broadband policy reformations:

  • Establish new comprehensive broadband policies that define the rights and obligations of broadband providers.

  • Establish a clear section that defines and distinguishes between the requirements of spectrum and network license policies, especially for broadband providers who want to invest in rural areas.

  • Set up a clear plan to manage the annual allocated money for broadband projects.

  • Set up clear policy goals for rural broadband projects with a specific achievement time frame.

In this study, the examined experiences of rural Iraqi residents indicate the necessity for access to CBCs in isolated communities for education, work, health, and participation in democratic processes. Millions of rural Iraqi individuals still suffer from a lack of access to reliable CBCs. To handle the rural broadband problems, the Ministry of Communications of Iraq and other government bodies must focus their endeavors on improving the broadband policy by having it cater more to rural Iraqis’ interests.

Notes

1.

R. Alsabah et al., “An Insight into Internet Sector in Iraq,” International Journal of Electrical and Computer Engineering 11, no. 6 (2021): 37–51.

2.

S. S. Ahmad and B. I. Saeed, “LoRa: A Proposed Connectivity Technology for Internet of Things Applications in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq,” Kurdistan Journal of Applied Research 13, no. 6 (2021): 20–34; J. N. Abdulridha and G. Gadder, “The Problems of Organization and Legal Responsibility (Civil and Administrative) in the Field of Telecommunications in Iraq,” Cuestiones Políticas 61, no. 5 (2020): 370–77; The World Bank. “Rural Population (% of Total Population) – Iraq,” Accessed July 7, 2022. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.RUR.TOTL.ZS?locations=IQ. The Iraqi Ministry of Communications illustrated that rural areas in Iraq are scattered places with populations of 3,000 or less and are located outside urban cities.

3.

Ministry of Communication, “Preparatory Survey Report on the construction and Development of the Telecommunications Network for Major Provinces in Iraq,” MOC.GOV.IQ, Accessed July 22, 2020, https://openjicareport.jica.go.jp/pdf/12025037.pdf. As of the conclusion of 2020, estimates from the Ministry of Communication of Iraq suggest that approximately 85% of rural Iraqis lack access to cellular broadband connections (CBCs), underscoring the significant digital disparity in rural areas.

4.

M. Haddad and C. Rossotto, “Developing Broadband in Frontier Markets: Opportunities and Challenges in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq,” Digital Policy, Regulation and Governance 19, no. 2 (2017): 126–38. The Ministry of Communications of Iraq illustrated that reliable broadband means fast and steady internet connections.

5.

Ibid.

6.

M. Abubakr and T. Kaya, “A Comparison of E-Government Systems between Developed and Developing Countries: Selective Insights from Iraq and Finland,” International Journal of Electronic Government Research 17, no. 2 (2021): 1–28.

7.

Haddad and Rossotto, “Developing Broadband in Frontier Markets.” Broadband deployment in major cities like Baghdad and Basra started back in 2004. Yet rural areas have been left without any plans for providing them with broadband connections. The major telecom companies started deploying broadband connections in major cities that have high population densities to ensure returns on investments plus profits in these areas.

8.

R. A. Johni, “Measurements to Design a Coverage Area by Using High Altitude Platform Systems,” Telkomnika 18, no. 4 (2020): 1695–700.

9.

V. Pickard, America’s Battle for Media Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

10.

C. Ali, “The Politics of Good Enough: Rural Broadband and Policy Failure in the United States,” International Journal of Communication 11, no. 4 (2020): 2.

11.

Abdulridha and Gadder, “The Problems of Organization and Legal Responsibility (Civil and Administrative) in the Field of Telecommunications in Iraq.” The three telecom companies, Zain, Asiacell and Korek, have dominated the cellular service market in Iraq since 2003. A few small companies have appeared in the market in recent years, providing telecom services in the big cities.

12.

Johni, “Measurements to Design a Coverage Area by Using High Altitude Platform Systems.”

13.

N. Mahmood and S. Abdullah, “Telecom Churn Prediction Based on Deep Learning Approach,” Iraqi Journal of Science 9, no 3 (2022): 1–26.

14.

M. Zeitoun et al., “Urban Warfare Ecology: A Study of Water Supply in Basrah,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 41, no. 6 (2017): 904–25.

15.

Haddad and Rossotto, “Developing Broadband in Frontier Markets”; A. Heshmati and F. H. Al-Hammadany, “Multinomial Logit Model of Choices of Internet Modes in Iraq,” Business and Economic Research 4, no. 2 (2014): 1–23.

16.

Alsabah et al., “An Insight into Internet Sector in Iraq.”

17.

Ahmad and Saeed, “LoRa.” The Ministry of Communications of Iraq illustrated that the internet is a public good that all Iraqi citizens need to have to accompany the development and flourishing of society.

18.

Alsabah et al., “An Insight into Internet Sector in Iraq”; Haddad and Rossotto, “Developing Broadband in Frontier Markets.”

19.

FreedomHouse, “Freedom on the Net,” Accessed September 17, 2022, https://freedomhouse.org/country/iraq/freedom-net/2022.

20.

Haddad and Rossotto, “Developing Broadband in Frontier Markets.”

21.

Alsabah et al., “An Insight into Internet Sector in Iraq”; United Nation, “Iraq eTrade Readiness Assessment,” Accessed July 13, 2022, https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/dtlstict2020d7_en_0.pdf. In 2009, Iraqi politicians realized that rural communities lacked access to reliable fixed and cellular broadband connections at a time when major cities had fast and steady internet connections provided by the major telecom broadband providers. The Ministry of Communications of Iraq considered the lack of access to broadband connections not just a policy problem but also a political, economic, social, and quality of life problem.

22.

FreedomHouse, “Freedom on the Net.”

23.

Ministry of Communication, “Preparatory Survey Report on the construction and Development of the Telecommunications Network for Major Provinces in Iraq,” MOC.GOV.IQ. Accessed July 22, 2020, https://openjicareport.jica.go.jp/pdf/12025037.pdf.

24.

Alsabah et al., “An Insight into Internet Sector in Iraq”; M. Anwar et al., “Customer Perceptions on Internet Services in Kurdistan Region of Iraq,” International Journal of Social Sciences & Educational Studies 5, no.1 (2018): 28–51..

25.

Ministry of Communication, MOC.GOV.IQ. Accessed March 18, 2010. https://moc.gov.iq/.

26.

Haddad and Rossotto, “Developing Broadband in Frontier Markets.”

27.

Heshmat and Al-Hammadany, “Multinomial Logit Model of Choices of Internet Modes in Iraq.” In 2009, policymakers in Iraq began addressing the issue of the lack of reliable CBCs in rural areas, marking a significant point in the timeline of policy attention to this matter.

28.

E. Parker et al., Rural America in the Information Age. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1989.

29.

J. W. Anderson, “Producers and Middle East Internet Technology: Getting Beyond ‘impacts’,” The Middle East Journal 54, no. 3 (2000): 419–31; E. Al Nashmi et al., “Internet Political Discussions in the Arab World: A Look at Online Forums from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan,” Internet Research Methods 18, no. 3 (2012): 1–28.

30.

F. Habibi and M. A. Zabardast, “Digitalization, Education and Economic Growth: A Comparative Analysis of Middle East and OECD Countries,” Technology in Society 63, no 2 (2020): 1–23; I. Allagui, “Internet in the Middle East: An Asymmetrical Model of Development,” Internet Histories 1, no. 5 (2017): 97–105.

31.

Haddad and Rossotto, “Developing Broadband in Frontier Markets.” Note that the KRI has its own ministries that run separately from the central government in Baghdad. The KRI also has its own laws and policies overseeing many sectors, including telecommunications.

32.

Ahmad and Saeed, “LoRa.”

33.

Y. Abbas Zadeh and S. Kirmanj, “The Para-Diplomacy of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq and the Kurdish Statehood Enterprise,” The Middle East Journal 71, no. 4 (2017): 587–606.

34.

Alsabah et al., “An Insight into Internet Sector in Iraq.”

35.

FreedomHouse, “Freedom on the Net.”

36.

Ibid.

37.

Ibid.

38.

Haddad and Rossotto, “Developing Broadband in Frontier Markets.” The regulatory oversight involved policies and regulations aimed at ensuring equitable access to cellular broadband services in rural and underserved regions, which included measures such as subsidies and licensing requirements that encouraged private telecom companies to invest in rural infrastructure.

39.

Ministry of Communications, “Preparatory Survey Report on the construction and Development of the Telecommunications Network for Major Provinces in Iraq.” This growth rate represents the annual percentage increase in the number of rural residents gaining access to CBCs during the period before 2009. The impressive growth can be attributed to the proactive policies in place at that time, which encouraged telecom companies to expand their network coverage to rural areas.

40.

Ibid.

41.

Ministry of Communications, MOC.GOV.IQ. The overall penetration rate of CBCs stood at 54% before 2009, representing their widespread adoption across Iraq. However, after the 2009 policy shift, there was a decline in the overall penetration rate to 39%, highlighting the substantial impact of regulatory changes on the accessibility and prevalence of CBCs nationwide.

42.

Ministry of Communications, MOC.GOV.IQ.

43.

Steve. Crabtree, “Cell Phones Outpace Internet Access in Middle East,” Gallup. Accessed https://news.gallup.com/poll/121652/cell-phones-outpace-internet-access-middle-east.aspxCrabtree.Saudi Arabia’s penetration rate of 86% indicates the percentage of rural residents in the country who have access to CBCs, highlighting the effectiveness of their policies and infrastructure development in achieving widespread connectivity.

44.

Stuti Saxena and Tariq Ali Said Mansour Al-Tamimi, “Visioning ‘Smart City’ Across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Countries,” Foresight 20, no. 3 (2018): 237–51; Saxena, Stuti and Al-Tamimi. The CBC penetration rate of 91% in Kuwait reflects the proportion of rural residents in the country who have access to CBCs, underscoring the efficiency of their policies and infrastructure development in achieving extensive digital connectivity.

45.

Dana Al Ali et al., “A Framework for Effective Design Thinking Based Smart Cities Projects in Qatar,” Smart Cities (Basel) 6, no. 1 (2023): 531–62; Al Ali, Nadarajah and Yanmeng. The 96% growth rate in rural access to CBCs in Qatar reflects the remarkable progress made in ensuring that most rural residents have access to CBCs, indicating the effectiveness of Qatar’s strategies and investments in expanding digital connectivity.

46.

J. E. Katsos and Y. AlKafaji, “Business in War Zones: How Companies Promote Peace in Iraq,” Journal of Business Ethics 155, no. 1 (2019): 41–56; K. Rittich, “Occupied Iraq: Imperial Convergences?,” Leiden Journal of International Law 31, no 3 (2018): 479–508.

47.

Ibid.

48.

H. H. Khedir, “Not to Mislead Peace: On the Demise of Identity Politics in Iraq,” Third World Quarterly 43, no.5 (2022): 1137–55

49.

Y. Chilmeran and N. Pratt, “The Geopolitics of Social Reproduction and Depletion: The Case of Iraq and Palestine,” Social Politics 26, no. 4 (2014): 586–607.

50.

Constitution of the Republic of Iraq, “Refworld,” Accessed March 14, 2022, https://www.refworld.org/docid/454f50804.html.

51.

D. Carpenter and D. Moss, “Introduction,” in Preventing Regulatory Capture, eds. by D. Carpenter and D. Moss (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 13.

52.

R. B. Horwitz, The Irony of Regulatory Reform: The Deregulation of American Telecommunications (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

53.

Ali, “The Politics of Good Enough,” 6.

54.

R. E. Henriksen et al., “Loneliness, Social Integration and Consumption of Sugar-Containing Beverages: Testing the Social Baseline Theory,” PloS One 9, no. 8 (2014): 1-24; R. Spano and S. Nagy, “Social Guardianship and Social Isolation: An Application and Extension of Lifestyle/Routine Activities Theory to Rural Adolescents,” Rural Sociology 70, no. 3 (2005): 414–37.

55.

C. G. Reddick et al., “Determinants of Broadband Access and Affordability: An Analysis of a Community Survey on the Digital Divide,” Cities 16, no. 3 (2020): 1–24.

56.

Ali, “The Politics of Good Enough.”

57.

C. Herzog et al., “Thematic Analysis,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Methods for Media Policy Research, eds. H. Van den Bulck, M. Puppis, K. Donders, and L. Van Audenhove (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 3.

58.

FreedomHouse, “Freedom on the Net”; National Internet Project, “Quick Information about the National Internet Project,” National Internet Project. Accessed May 11, 2021, https://insm-iq.org/en/archives/327.

59.

Alsabah et al., “An Insight into Internet Sector in Iraq.”

60.

Herzog et al. “Thematic Analysis”; C. Ali, “When Good Is the Enemy of Great: The Four Failures of Rural Broadband Policy,” in Farm Fresh Broadband, ed. Sandra Braman (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2021), 67–98.

61.

Ministry of Communication, MOC.GOV.IQ.

62.

N. Mathews and C. Ali, “‘Come on f––er, just load!’ Powerlessness, Waiting, and Life without Broadband,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 2 no. 18 (2022): 1-11, 5.

63.

Chaim Noy, “Sampling Knowledge: The Hermeneutics of Snowball Sampling in Qualitative Research,” International Journal of Social Research Methodology 11, no. 4 (2008): 327–344.

64.

Justine S. Sefcik et al., “When Snowball Sampling Leads to an Avalanche of Fraudulent Participants in Qualitative Research,” International Journal of Older People Nursing 18, no. 6 (2023): e12572.

65.

Ibid.

66.

Ibid.

67.

Noy, “Sampling Knowledge.”

68.

National Internet Project, “Quick Information about the National Internet Project.” Initially, the Ministry of Communications of Iraq planned to provide CBCs to areas near schools and hospitals, especially after rural Iraqis complained about a lack of access to broadband connections in these areas. The ministry allocated specific amounts of money to subsidize the provision of CBCs in these areas.

69.

National Internet Project, “Quick Information about the National Internet Project.”

70.

The World Bank, “Rural Population (% of Total Population) – Iraq.”

71.

Alsabah et al., “An Insight into Internet Sector in Iraq.”

72.

In 2009, a shift occurred in CBC policies, marked by changes aimed at fostering a more favorable environment for private telecom companies. These alterations, moving away from a restrictive framework, aimed to attract increased investment from private entities with the overarching goal of stimulating improvements in connectivity for rural Iraqi areas.

73.

Ibid.

74.

FreedomHouse, “Freedom on the Net”; National Internet Project, “Quick Information about the National Internet Project.”

75.

Haddad and Rossotto, “Developing Broadband in Frontier Markets.” The earlier iterations of Iraqi CBC policies included stringent regulations that mandated specific technological standards for the deployment of broadband connections. These regulations aimed to ensure the quality and reliability of CBC services while maintaining a competitive environment in the telecommunications sector.

76.

Ibid. By approximately 2008, Zain, Asiacell, and Korek, which held dominant positions in the Iraqi telecom market, collectively advocated for the removal of certain regulations and licensing requirements. Their primary objective was to streamline the process of deploying CBC infrastructure in rural areas, potentially reducing the associated costs and administrative burdens.

77.

Alsabah et al., “An Insight into Internet Sector in Iraq.” In response to the appeals made by major telecom companies, the Ministry of Communication of Iraq initiated a series of revisions to the CBC policies. These revisions led to the relaxation of certain regulatory provisions and licensing requirements, particularly concerning rural CBC deployment. These changes reflect a shift in policy priorities and raise questions about the extent of influence exerted by telecom companies on the regulatory framework.

78.

Alsabah et al., “An Insight into Internet Sector in Iraq.” National Internet Project, “Quick Information about the National Internet Project.”

79.

Ibid.

80.

Ministry of Communication, MOC.GOV.IQ. The Ministry of Communications of Iraq implemented different methods of relieving taxes for telecom providers to incentivize the private sector to invest in rural areas. The Ministry hoped that the 2% exemption from the annual tax could incentivize telecom companies to offer affordable subscription prices for rural residents. Yet, per the NIP report in 2021, rural areas still suffer from high prices for cellular broadband services.

81.

Ibid.

82.

Ibid.

83.

Ministry of Communication, “Preparatory Survey Report on the construction and Development of the Telecommunications Network for Major Provinces in Iraq.” The tax relief initiatives by the Ministry of Communications in Iraq, as part of the CBC policies within the NIP, have resulted in limited CBC operations in rural areas. According to the 2021 NIP report, based on data from internet service providers and telecom carriers, only Zain, Asiacell, and Korek are major carriers offering CBCs in rural locations. Nevertheless, the data underscores that over 68% of rural areas still lack CBCs, indicating ongoing challenges in achieving comprehensive coverage in these regions.

84.

FreedomHouse, “Freedom on the Net.”

85.

Reddick et al., “Determinants of Broadband Access and Affordability.”

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