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Ethiopia plans to issue telco licenses by year-end

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia is aiming to award telco licenses to multinational mobile companies by the end of the year, ending a state monopoly and opening up one of the world’s last major closed telecoms markets, three people with direct knowledge of the process said.

Ethiopia’s telecoms industry is considered the big prize in a push to liberalize the country’s economy launched last year by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed because of its huge protected market serving a population of around 100 million.

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Government officials have already looked at several potential options, including the sale of a minority stake in Ethio Telecom, granting of new licenses to multiple telecoms operators or a combination of both.

Abiy is keen to deliver quickly on his reform pledges but preparing Ethio Telecom, the monopoly operator, for a partial sale is proving a lengthy process, said the sources, who asked not to be named. As a result, the authorities are opting to auction new licenses first.

The plan, which has not yet been formally announced, would open the bidding process for two licenses in September and they would be awarded in December.

The government will expect the winning companies to start operations next year, initially using Ethio Telecom’s infrastructure to run their networks, the sources said.

State Minister of Finance Eyob Tekalign Tolina told Reuters the government hoped to launch a bidding process in September, but he declined to give further details of the reform plan.

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