Providing critical telecommunications infrastructure in conflict zones is a humanitarian obligation

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Since 1 February 2021, it has been reported that more than 17 foreign investment companies in sectors ranging from retail to manufacturing have left or suspended their operations in Myanmar.

Needless to say, the contributing factors underlying such decisions are usually complex ones that consider the high-risk nature of operations, the difficulties involved in ensuring the smooth running of services and concerns around employee safety.

For M1 Group, our firm belief that a dependable telecommunications infrastructure is essential to economic and social development is what guides our willingness to operate in countries like Myanmar.

In today’s world, access to internet and basic communication services should represent a fundamental human right, next to shelter, food, and medicine – this is why, unlike other operators, we are willing to accept the greater risks that come from operating in challenging environments.

Yet despite being a successful holding company behind many independent, dependable, and proven telecom operators committed to providing critical infrastructure to some of the world’s most needy populations, allegations against M1 Group have emerged precisely because of our willingness to operate in these markets – among other ill-founded, erroneous and biased claims.

Setting the record straight

M1 Group was born in a high-risk environment, out of belief that every individual should have access to basic communications services. Civil strife in Lebanon had destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure in the late 1970s, disrupting communications.

The two entrepreneur co-founders of M1 Group wanted to address this situation and installed a satellite dish on the roof of an office similar to those used by ships at sea. These were the beginnings of our journey.

Our founders believed in filling the critical need for telecommunications infrastructure and services in Lebanon, among other emerging markets, and this belief is still central to our business today.

Our decision to operate in difficult markets comes with risks and consequences, as well as misunderstandings, mostly by uninformed observers. Many ill-founded and erroneous allegations have been made against us, yet, in the absence of proof or admissible evidence.

M1 Group is proud to say that we have conducted our business at the highest standards. To date, there have been no situations where M1 Group has not upheld or respected consumers’ rights and no one in the company has ever been convicted of any act involving corruption or corporate malpractice, in any country around the world.

Since the beginning of our operations, M1 Group has upheld human rights and respected the laws of the countries it operates in, while also advocating for consumer protection regulations on data security, data resilience, privacy, connectivity, roaming, and internet access.

M1 Group has and will always remain committed to meeting all its legal and ethical obligations to its millions of users around the world.

Operating in challenging environments is more critical than ever

Countries around the world are all grappling with the severe health and economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, with not even the wealthiest nations among us being able to fully avoid its economic consequences. But in these exceptional times of global economic uncertainty, it is more important than ever to make sure we support those countries that are less fortunate and likely to suffer disproportionately.

By ensuring the people of these countries have access to communications, M1 Group is determined to play its part in supporting them. In these times, we see this as nothing less than a duty for companies, like us, who can catalyse positive change in challenging places.

In spite of the political challenges Myanmar faces, we intend to act on this duty by pushing ahead with our plans to support its people through the pandemic. First, by engaging with our partners to tackle the urgent need to secure life-saving vaccinations for the people of Myanmar.

Second, we’ve seen connectivity itself as key to rolling out successful vaccination drives and monitoring patients’ recoveries, in many countries. If granted the opportunity, we will be looking for ways to use our telecommunications infrastructure in Myanmar to help with telemedicine initiatives that expand access to vaccinations, subsequent monitoring, and follow-ups.

In the case of Myanmar, pending regulatory approval, M1 Group will soon operate in one of the world’s most challenging environments – one in which telecommunications towers are blown up regularly and which carries immeasurable economic and political risks.

Even with the gravity of these risks, however, it remains our view that it has never been more important for businesses like ours to take risks, and to serve the 18 million subscribers on the ground who need access to essential communication services to stay in touch with their loved ones and to carry out business activities – not to mention the 730 employees who depend on the network for their income.

This is why we have committed to investing $330 million to expand and develop the telecommunications infrastructure in Myanmar over the next three years, so that we can provide the people of Myanmar with stable and reliable telecommunications services.

This vision has been our key differentiator since our inception, and it will continue to be. We are willing to operate in environments and support people that others simply will not or cannot, and we are proud of this. For M1 Group, entering Myanmar is a risk, but one with huge humanitarian rewards for its people. That’s why it’s a risk we are willing to take.

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