A number of management consultants and legal firms are bidding for the assignment. They are understood to include Arthur D Littleof the US , Baker & McKenzie, Canadian law firm McCarthy Tetrault, UK consultant Ovum, McKinsey & Company, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The successful firm will do a study over the next six months on how to deregulate the sector in accordance with the telecommunications act issued last summer. Under the act, SCC was created and soon afterwards a governor was appointed. The body’s board of directors was appointed in February and the commission has since worked to appoint staff and set out its guidelines.

The GSM market is expected to be opened to competition next year, with the approval of a second GSM licence by SCC. The new company will compete against the incumbent operator, Saudi Telecom Company (STC), which will continue to provide the backbone service (see Cover Story).

There is already competition in the internet market, with nearly 30 companies providing services. Industry sources say that one of the tasks of SCC’s new consultant will be to study ways of bringing the internet service market under the authority of SCC, which is technically responsible for it. Until now, the effective regulator has been the Internet Services Unit at the King Abdulaziz City for Science & Technology, which also screens all internet pages accessible in the country for culturally unsuitable material.