Iraqi telecom will not be U.S. development project

Because of commercial interest in developing a telecommunications infrastructure in Iraq, the State Department says a telecom pact will not be among the postwar reconstruction contracts it is awarding.

Congress has approved $2.5 billion for humanitarian aid and reconstruction programs for the country, which has been ravaged by more than two decades of war and neglect. But that money will not be used for communications. The Defense Department plans to set up a quick and basic cellular system in the country for limited use by the military, humanitarian groups and the interim Iraq administration, a State spokesman said. Beyond that, it will be up to the Iraqis to decide what kind of phone systems should be installed.

The decision will squelch a House bill introduced in March that would require the use of American cellular technology in any rebuilding program [see story at gcn.com/22_7/mobile-wireless/21621-1.html]. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) introduced the bill when he heard that DOD planned to use a European cellular standard during rebuilding. The bill would give preference to American companies for any Iraq reconstruction work and would 'require the use of CDMA technology' in a cellular infrastructure included in an assistance program.

Code Division Multiple Access technology was commercially developed by Qualcomm Inc. of San Diego, in Issa's district. It is the dominant cellular technology in North America, although most of the rest of the world, including Iraq's neighbors, uses the Global System for Mobile Communications standard developed in Europe.

The bill was referred to the House International Relations and Armed Services committees, where it has been shelved with no action. That did not surprise the congressman, said his chief of staff, Dan Neugebauer.

'We never expected it to move, really,' Neugebauer said. 'It was more an effort to make a point and draw attention to something the government was doing that we didn't think was right.'

Most of the Iraqi rebuilding contracts will be awarded through the Agency for International Development. 'USAID is not going to do any telecommunications work,' spokesman Alfonso Aguilar said. A State spokesman said there was no reason to include telecom in the reconstruction package because there are companies willing to invest their own money to build a system.

Neugebauer said Issa is satisfied with the decision.

'I think it's a positive development,' Neugebauer said. 'As long as companies representing both available technologies are allowed to compete equally, we are happy with that.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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