I OVERVIEW

The various technology, media and telecommunications industries are treated as strategic industries in Uzbekistan, and special attention has been paid to TMT by the government in recent years. The development of TMT industries, and the development of electronic commerce and electronic government in particular, has become one of the main government policies, and this has been reflected in a number of laws enacted by Parliament, presidential decisions and decisions made by the Cabinet of Ministers.

Uzbekistan has adopted a strict licensing regime for the commercial activities of telecommunications service providers and local media. The government also implements wide-ranging technical regulation over the importation, sale and use of certain technology, primarily in the telecommunications industry, which includes permits for manufacture, import or use, and certification or accreditation, of certain types of equipment. Applicable licences and permits are usually issued on a temporary or a per unit basis.

Although the government makes every effort to develop TMT industries, there are still a number of gaps in local legislation, and a large amount of legislative work remains to be done. Parliamentary laws regulating TMT usually have a framework character, with practically all legal and administrative issues being regulated by subordinate legislation in the form of government resolutions and decisions issued by the State Agency for Publications and Information and the recently reorganised State Committee for Communications, Informatisation and Telecommunication Technologies (CCITT). The President and the government have identified the development of TMT with a short-term emphasis on the development of electronic government as one of the priorities of state policy for future years.

II REGULATION

i The regulators

The main regulator in the telecommunications and telecommunication technologies industry in Uzbekistan is the CCITT, which was formed out of the former Uzbek Agency for Communications and Informatisation. The CCITT has several divisions, some of which have regulatory functions. The CCITT itself is responsible for implementation of government policy in the telecommunications industry and for licensing telecommunication activities.

The State Agency for Publications and Information (Agency) is the main state regulator of the media industry in Uzbekistan. The Agency’s main functions include the implementation of state policy in the media industry, and the licensing and registration of media providers.

In addition to licensing and registration functions, the state regulation of TMT activities in Uzbekistan also includes certification and authorisation procedures applicable primarily in respect of telecommunication equipment. The following state authorities are involved in regulating the TMT industry in Uzbekistan:

  • a the Cabinet of Ministers of Uzbekistan, responsible for overall formulation of government policy in the TMT industry as well as licensing of certain types of activities;
  • b the State Communications Inspection under the CCITT, responsible for inspecting telecommunication service providers for overall compliance with the laws of Uzbekistan;
  • c the Uzstandard Agency, responsible for testing and certifying certain telecommunications equipment imported into or manufactured in Uzbekistan;
  • d the Centre for Electromagnetic Compatibility of Devices under CCITT, responsible for checking and authorising the import and use of certain high-frequency radio equipment in Uzbekistan;
  • e the Ministry of Culture, responsible for monitoring compliance with distribution of public information rules;
  • f the Ministry of Finance and the State Committee for Privatisation, Demonopolisation and Development of Competition, responsible for monitoring the monopolistic status of TMT companies and regulating tariffs for monopolistic goods and services. The Committee is also responsible for managing the insolvency of those TMT companies in which the state has a share in the capital;
  • g the National Security Service of Uzbekistan, responsible for issuing permissions to import, manufacture, sell and use devices for the cryptographic protection of data; and
  • h the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan, responsible for checking compliance with requirements concerning the protection of state secrets, and the installation and maintenance of systems for operational and investigative activities into data transfer and mobile communication networks.
ii Regulated activities

The following main types of TMT activities are regulated in Uzbekistan.

Regular and systematic publication activities

The law does not identify a definition for publication activities; therefore, each type of activity should be considered carefully. However, based on the established licensing and registration practice, it is possible to provide a general definition on what a publication activity includes. We would include the following types of activities in the category of licensed activities:

  • a publication of any types of newspapers;
  • b publication of any types of journals and magazines;
  • c publication and distribution of news among certain categories of individuals or legal entities on a regular and systematic basis; and
  • d publication of news on the internet.

Licences for publication activities are issued by the Cabinet of Ministers through the Uzbek Agency for Publications and Information. Licences are usually issued for a period of five calendar years and only to legal entities registered in Uzbekistan.

After receiving a licence, a licensee shall be required to register as a mass media provider with the Agency for Publications and Information.

Depending on the type of entity to be licensed and registered, the overall authorisation period for issuance of a licence and registration usually takes between two and six calendar months.

Telecommunications networks

The design, construction, use and provision of telecommunication services on the following networks are regulated:

  • a local networks (telephone line);
  • b intercity networks (telephone line);
  • c international networks (telephone line);
  • d mobile radiotelephone networks;
  • e data transfer networks (internet); and
  • f television and radio distribution networks.

The above-mentioned services are subject to licensing. Licences are only issued by the CCITT to legal entities that have been registered in Uzbekistan for at least five years. Licences to provide local, intercity, international and mobile telecommunication services may be issued for periods of up to 15 years.

In practice, the time taken to review an application and issue a licence or a motivated rejection decision may be between two and six months.

The importation and use of certain high-frequency telecommunications devices

Authorisation by the Centre for Electromagnetic Compatibility of Electronic Devices under the CCITT is required for the importation and use of electronic devices appearing on the list of telecommunication equipment set out in Regulation No. 526 of the Ministry of Justice of Uzbekistan on 9 November 1998. This list of equipment is identified in accordance with the Harmonised System (HS) customs codes and includes the following designations:

  • a 8514 20 100 0 – induction or dielectric furnaces and ovens;
  • b 85 14 40 000 0 – other induction or dielectric industrial or laboratory heating equipment;
  • c 8517 11 000 0 – telephone sets;
  • d 8517 12 000 0 – telephone sets;
  • e 8517 62 000 1 – electric apparatus for line telephony;
  • f 8517 70 (except 8517 70 900 1) – electric apparatus for line telephony;
  • g 8525 50 000 0 – transmission apparatus for radiotelephony, etc., TV cameras and cordless phones; and
  • h 8525 60 000 0 – transmission apparatus for radiotelephony, etc., TV cameras and cordless phones.

Uzbek laws do not establish a precise procedure for issuance of this type of permit. Therefore, a detailed application with a description of technical characteristics and submission of technical documents for imported telecommunications equipment will be expected. The period taken to issue a permit will normally be no longer than two months from the moment of filing an application with the Centre for Electromagnetic Compatibility of Electronic Devices.

Importation of certain types of equipment

The Cabinet of Ministers of Uzbekistan sets out the list of commodities, including equipment, which are subject to mandatory certification in Uzbekistan. This list also identifies the commodities that are subject to mandatory certification in accordance with their HS customs codes.

In accordance with the above-mentioned list, all types of equipment (including telecommunications equipment) falling under the 8402–8476 and 8501–8546 HS customs code groups are subject to mandatory certification in Uzbekistan.

If the telecommunications equipment to be imported falls within the list of certifiable products, then certificates of conformance in relation to each type of imported goods will also be required.

Certification is made by Uzstandard State Agency. Certification can be made in the form of recognition of a foreign certificate of conformance if an Uzbek certification authority has an international or bilateral agreement for the recognition of such documents (these mainly include members of the Commonwealth of Independent States). If no recognition is possible, the certification authority may review technical documents and make decisions, or choose to test the equipment if a relevant laboratory is available.

The certification procedure (if no testing is made) can take between one week and one month.

Devices for the cryptographic protection of information

The manufacture, import, sale and use of devices for the cryptographic protection of information require a licence from the National Security Service of Uzbekistan.

The licence is usually issued for a term of five years within 30 calendar days, and requires submission of the following documents:

  • a an application for a licence with full details about the applicant, who must be a resident of Uzbekistan;
  • b a notary-certified copy of the state registration certificate;
  • c state fee payment receipts (fee for reviewing the application is fixed at five times the minimum monthly wage);
  • d information on available facilities to carry out the desired licensable type of activities;
  • e detailed information on personnel to be hired for the desired licensable type of activities with reference to their work experience and education; and
  • f evidence of the availability of permits to access state secrets (for restricted types of activities only).
Ownership and market access restrictions

There are no limitations in respect to access to market and ownership in telecommunications companies in Uzbekistan. Therefore, one can find several fully foreign-owned internet and mobile communication operators in the country. The telecommunications market of Uzbekistan has also seen a rich practice of acquisitions and takeovers in recent years, all of which have been initiated by foreign investors.

There are also no limitations in respect of access to market and establishing companies manufacturing or trading telecommunication or media equipment in Uzbekistan. There is also a range of companies from other countries, including Russia, China, India and Korea, engaged in manufacturing and trading telecommunications equipment in Uzbekistan.

Nevertheless, there are limitations on foreign investment in the media. In accordance with the Law on Mass Media, it is forbidden in Uzbekistan to establish mass media firms of which 30 per cent or more of the authorised capital is owned by non-Uzbek investors.

Transfers of control and assignments

No special rules in this regard have been adopted for TMT industries in Uzbekistan. Therefore, the general antimonopoly provisions described below shall apply.

In accordance with Article 3 of the Competition Law, antimonopoly requirements shall be applicable in all cases when potential actions and transactions may lead to a limitation of competition on local markets, regardless of the place where a particular action or transaction takes place.

Further to this rule and based on numerous clarifications issued by the state antimonopoly agency, Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers No. 230 of 20 August 2013 and No. 344 of 27 December 2013 shall be applicable in cases when title to shares in an Uzbek company or in a foreign shareholder that owns interest in an Uzbekistani legal entity is transferred to another company.

As set out in the Competition Law, the preliminary approval of the state antimonopoly agency is required to be obtained prior to entering into a transaction.

In our experience, receipt of antimonopoly approval takes no longer than one month from the moment the following documents have been submitted to the special commission operating under the State Committee for Privatisation, Demonopolisation and Development of Competition:

  • a an application with a detailed description of the transaction and all participants in the transaction;
  • b copies of all participants’ certificates of registration and company charter. For foreign participants, these documents should be legalised by an Uzbek consular section or apostilled by a competent authority;
  • c detailed information on services provided by all participants in the transaction during the past two years (name, volume, cost);
  • d financial and statistical information about all participants for the past two years. For foreign participants in the transaction, financial documentation in accordance with international standards of financial reporting shall be sufficient; and
  • e detailed information on interrelations between all participants in the transaction.

The state antimonopoly agency may request additional information depending on the type of companies involved. Some practice suggests that investment plans in Uzbekistan for the next several years may be requested.

The submitted documents are reviewed by a special commission, and the decision to approve or reject the transaction is made within 10 days. The special commission is entitled to extend the review period for up to one month.

The merger or acquisition transaction is allowed to be executed only after the approval of the State Committee for Privatisation, Demonopolisation and Development of Competition has been received, and the Competition Law requires that the share purchase agreement be entered into within one year of the date of approval.

Antimonopoly approval is valid for only 12 months from the date of issuance.

IIi TELECOMMUNICATIONS and INTERNET ACCESS

i Internet and internet protocol regulation

The internet and internet protocol are subject to the relevant data transfer licensing rules and general data transfer regulations of Uzbekistan. In the case of VoIP services, these are not treated as traditional telephone communication services, and different (i.e., data transfer) rules and regulations apply.

The government and the CCITT have enacted a number of laws and by-laws approving general rules for:

  • a providing access to the internet;
  • b interaction between ISPs at data transfer networks;
  • c providing internet services in public places; and
  • d the mandatory implementation of systems for operational and investigative measures, access to which is granted only to the law enforcement agencies
    of Uzbekistan.
ii Universal service

It should be noted that access to international internet networks is regarded as a state monopoly, and access to international internet networks from Uzbekistan and into Uzbekistan is possible only through gateways provided by the CCITT.

The government and the CCITT in particular are constantly taking all measures to increase the use of internet in day-to-day private, public and business activities. All government authorities have been ordered to transfer the vast majority of their services and functions provided to individuals and businesses to electronic means accessible through the internet.

During the past decade, the government has constantly decreased the cost of licences and other permits related to providing wired and wireless internet services in Uzbekistan. In our experience, the cost of licences and permits for providing internet services in Uzbekistan has decreased by more than 10 times during that period.

iii Restrictions on the provision of service

Apart from access to international data networks being possible only through the CCITT-controlled single gateway, provided that the service provider has all relevant licences and permits as described above, there are no other restrictions on the provision of internet and data transfer services within Uzbekistan.

The pricing of internet services is determined by the provider itself and, provided no monopoly exists in the sector, the freedom of pricing is guaranteed by the Law on Guarantees and Freedoms for Conducting Commercial Operations in Uzbekistan. The government, via the Ministry of Finance, can interfere in pricing issues only if any of the providers starts to have a dominant position in the market. In such a case, the Ministry of Finance may limit the rights of ISPs to increase or decrease the cost of their services within certain boundaries.

The internet and data transfer market in Uzbekistan is fairly diverse, and multiple operators exist. Therefore, none of the operators could be clearly identified as being a monopolist in Uzbekistan.

Obligations in the Republic of Uzbekistan emerge on the grounds of the law, a contract or the cause of damages. Uzbek laws do not bind all or certain internet service providers to provide services to all or particular individuals or companies. An obligation to provide services emerges only after a relevant contract between a service provider and a customer has been signed. Should a customer refuse to accept the terms and conditions of an internet service provider, the latter is entitled not to provide any services to such a customer in Uzbekistan.

Provided that the content is not forbidden by law, the principle of freedom of contract established in the Civil Code of Uzbekistan allows network owners to favour certain content, applications or services when providing services to customers. Such a policy would only be possible and enforceable on the basis of a relevant service contract made with customers.

Subject to privacy laws and disclosure restrictions, ISPs can be allowed by contract to monitor their customers’ activities on the internet.

iv Security

The general security measure established under the Law on Telecommunications is that all ISPs are obliged to install and maintain a system for operational and investigative activities on their data transfer networks. This system must be approved by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan. Access to this system must be provided to authorised law enforcement officers at all times.

In accordance with the Telecommunication Law, an individual’s privacy is guaranteed and protected by law. ISPs are forbidden to collect, store, record, publish or otherwise disclose any information and data transmitted through telephone, e-mail, internet or other means on data transfer networks. Company officials of ISPs may be held liable under the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan for breach of privacy laws.

Uzbek telecommunication laws do not provide any special regulations for the protection of children.

Iv SPECTRUM POLICY

i Development

The Law on the Radio Frequency Spectrum was enacted in 1998 and has not been significantly changed since. Uzbekistan is a member of the Agreement for the Use of Radio Frequency and Maintenance of the Electromagnetic Compatibility of Strategic Radio-Electronic Devices in the Interests of CIS Security of 15 May 1992.2

The distribution of radio spectrum among users in Uzbekistan is an exclusive right of the authorised state body, which is the CCITT. The law allows users from both public and private sectors to use radio spectrum within the territory of Uzbekistan.

The use of radio frequencies in the course of developing, manufacturing, designing, constructing, purchasing, importing radio electronic and high-frequency devices, as well as conducting scientific and R&D work, are allowed only with special permission from the CCITT. In accordance with the Law on Radio Frequency Spectrum, all telecommunications users must ensure the full electromagnetic compatibility of the electronic devices they use. For these purposes, before issuing permission to use high-frequency devices in Uzbekistan, the CCITT and its subordinate organisations discuss and approve technical conditions for the use of these devices.

Distribution of radio frequencies in Uzbekistan is made in accordance with the national radio frequency distribution table. Permission to use radio frequency can be provided to a user for an indefinite term or for a limited term in accordance with a corresponding written agreement between the user and the CCITT.

ii Flexible spectrum use

Uzbek laws governing the use of the radio spectrum are rather stringent and do not afford much flexibility to telecommunications users. The Law on Radio Frequency Spectrum provides the following rights to users:

  • a the right to use radio spectrum;
  • b the right to purchase radio-electronic devices or high-frequency devices permitted to be used in Uzbekistan;
  • c the right to request authorised state bodies to find sources of radio interferences; and
  • d the right to conduct any activity in the course of using radio frequency within the technical conditions of a permit received from the relevant state authority.
iii Broadband and next-generation mobile spectrum use

There have been no major legislative developments in this area in the past few years. Nevertheless, along with the government’s intention to develop the TMT industries in the country, telecommunications operators have been encouraged and asked to employ more technology in developing high-speed data transfer networks in Uzbekistan.

It should be noted that next-generation LTE networks have already been put into operation by several telecommunications service providers in Uzbekistan.

iv Spectrum auctions and fees

The Law on Radio Frequency Spectrum allows radio frequency to be distributed among users following a competition or auctions. All subsequent relations between a radio frequency user and the state regulator shall be regulated by a special agreement between them.

Pursuant to the Law on Radio Frequency Spectrum, permits to use radio frequencies in Uzbekistan and permits to use certain radio-electronic devices are issued on a payable basis. Tariffs for the latter permits are fixed by the Centre for Electromagnetic Compatibility of Devices under the CCITT and are approved by the Ministry of Finance. Tariffs for the use of radio frequencies are determined separately for each frequency in accordance with a formula approved by a special resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers, which is compliant with the formulae recommended by International Telecommunication Union.

V MEDIA

i Restrictions on the provision of service

The laws of Uzbekistan forbid the establishment of media companies, including TV and radio broadcasting companies, newspapers, magazines and websites, of which 30 per cent or more of the authorised capital belongs to foreign individuals or companies.

In terms of the content of media broadcasts and services, Uzbek laws forbid the use of media for the purposes of:

  • a calling for forced (violent) change of the existing constitutional order and territorial integrity of Uzbekistan;
  • b the promotion of war, violence and terrorism, as well as ideas of religious extremism, separatism and fundamentalism;
  • c disclosing state secrets or information protected by law;
  • d distribution of information causing racial, ethnic or religious division;
  • e the promotion of narcotics, psychiatric substances and drug precursors;
  • f committing any sort of criminal offence; and
  • g discrediting the honour, dignity and business reputation, or interfering in the private life, of individuals.

The Law also forbids the use of media for the purposes of publishing or broadcasting preliminary investigation materials without the relevant prosecutor, investigator or interrogator’s written approval, or for commenting on a judicial decision or otherwise influencing a judge in any manner until the decision has been made.

Network operators and content providers are regulated separately under Uzbek law. Nevertheless, the restrictions described above shall be equally applicable to both network operators and content providers.

All types of gambling games, including online gambling games, are forbidden.

ii Digital switchover

Due to low speeds at local data transfer networks and strict radio frequency regulations, digital media has not yet been fully developed in Uzbekistan. The transfer to digital media has not yet reached a significant level; therefore, it is difficult to analyse the consequences of digital switchover at this time. However, government policies aimed at stimulating private investments and increasing the capacity of data transfer networks have already resulted in the emergence of several media operators providing access to television, telephone networks and internet through a single channel. The national television company has also received substantial investments and has digitised several national channels, creating new TV channels broadcast all over Uzbekistan.

iii Internet-delivered video content

Government support, constantly growing internet connection speeds and the ever-decreasing cost of internet services have greatly increased the local population’s access to internet-delivered video content. Although internet broadcasting is not yet a significant competitor to traditional analogue or DTTV companies, the share and popularity of this service is increasing, especially in Uzbekistan’s big cities. The fact that non-Uzbek video content has thereby become easily available to the local population has also led to an increased number of intellectual property rights breaches in Uzbekistan.

iv Mobile services

The growing demand for mobile media services has not had any impact on the national policy of Uzbekistan to date; nor has an increased amount of spectrum been made available to mobile services.

Vi THE YEAR IN REVIEW

In 2015, the government committed to the improvement and development of electronic government, and to making all major government services and functions available online. Several presidential resolutions and decisions of the Cabinet of Ministers of Uzbekistan have annulled a range of authorisation procedures in TMT industries and made others available online. As an example of current achievements, the following governmental services are just some of those that have now become available online:

  • a registration of company names;
  • b registration of companies;
  • c filing of tax reports;
  • d filing of lawsuits;
  • e addressing all government authorities on any issues with subsequent mandatory receipt of clarifications in writing (or by email);
  • f notification of all government authorities of breaches committed by public officers with subsequent mandatory receipt of clarification in writing (or by email); and
  • g filing notifications on foreign trade contracts to banks.

One of the key steps taken by the government to improve and develop the TMT industries is the appointment, as deputy chair of the CCITT, of a Korean national who had formerly held a top position in the Korean state telecommunications regulator.

A key change in the TMT industries in Uzbekistan in 2014 was the entrance onto the local mobile market of MTS, which is a top Russian-based cellular networks service provider.

Trends in the TMT industries in 2015 have been increased internet speeds, a lowering of internet fees by service providers, an increased number of local content providers and an increased number of fibre-optic and wireless internet users.

VIi CONCLUSIONS and OUTLOOK

Uzbek laws do not forbid 100 per cent foreign ownership in local telecommunication companies (e.g., cellular networks and ISPs), and allow up to 30 per cent foreign investment in local mass media (TV, radio companies, newspapers, magazines, etc.).

The main government policy in the TMT industries for the next five years is one of development right across the sector.

To stimulate foreign direct investments into the country, the government has passed several legislative acts that provide a wide range of long-term tax, customs and foreign currency benefits and exemptions. The duration of the benefits depends on the size of investment, the minimum amount of which is as little as US$300,000.

Footnotes

1 Nodir Yuldashev is a partner at GRATA International.

2 The following countries are members of this agreement: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.