One of your first initiatives as minister was to meet with all the telecoms operators. What insights did that produce, and how does the ministry support them?
Telecoms operators are key enablers of progress for Jordan to move forward. We have extremely advanced infrastructure in Jordan, 100% mobile and internet penetration, and 93% smartphone penetration. This has not come about for free; there were huge investments behind it. There is great belief in the market and stiff competition that provides affordable services to our residents and citizens. Having said that, globally, mobile operators' revenues and profits are declining, and, accordingly, we need to take action. We are meeting with operators to come up with an innovative setup for taxes, spectrum fees, and revenue shares so that we can give the sector a positive push that benefits everyone. We are working out an agreement with operators to reinvent how things are done.
How is this complemented by development in Jordan's telecoms infrastructure, in particular the National Broadband Network?
Jordan has invested almost USD200 million in building around 7,000km of fiber-optic cables. This reaches almost every district of the country and provides greater access for the private sector than the current fiber network. I want the private sector to use and benefit from this advanced and widespread infrastructure. We also want to enter into a PPP to introduce another wholesale operator to reduce the overall cost of connectivity and provide higher-speed internet to the public. On top of this, we can have security services, sandboxing, and other advanced services that can be scaled up to a national level. This is one of the projects the ministry showcased at the London conference and will be opened up for partnership later in 2019.
What more is the ministry doing to push the creation of talent in Jordan's ICT sector?
The market requires more talent, and things are happening as a result. Jordanians are already competitive and smart; in addition, we, in cooperation with the Ministry of Labor, are training 500 people in 2019 on coding, communication and life skills, and English. Through the Al Hussein Technical University and Crown Prince Foundation, we provide a 300-hour crash course boot camp training. In 2018, 100 people were trained, and the outcome has been marvelous; we have companies lining up to hire those graduates when they finish. We are also considering a variety of other projects to create more supply and demand for quality resources, the export of services, and high-growth entrepreneurs. We have a training program, though we want to scale it up. Jordan is an opportunity for the world. We have hungry, talented youth. Some 70% of our population is young, and 22% of them studied ICT. We have successful examples of international companies operating from Jordan that serve the globe, not just the region. Jordan is the best place to get high-quality ICT services at a competitive cost. Companies are helping Jordan by employing our young people, including women, at the same time assisting a country that hosts refugees. Jordan has challenges when it comes to employment, and in ICT, significantly more jobs can be created with lower amounts of investment. There are success stories that affirm this. I was recently on a trip to the US where more ICT entities have confirmed they will open offices in Jordan. This is a growing trend.
How do you evaluate the ministry's efforts to increase opportunities for women in ICT?
Our ministry has almost 50% female staff. We are opening our daycare center soon to support working mothers. Building this daycare was my first decision when I joined the government, and we did it in six months. Today, more than 50% of ICT graduates are women, and women working in the ICT sector contribute three times the average female contribution to the labor force. ICT can truly lead the way in employing women and giving them opportunities to contribute to the economy. More needs to happen in terms of working from home and creating more daycare facilities. We have just passed a labor law requiring daycare to be made available whenever there are 15 parents of either sex in a workplace. We did not want to make this provision exclusively for females, because it would discourage people employing them. There are many other programs financed by the UN to push more female graduates into the labor market.