Likud-UTJ deal includes rollback of plan to phase out 2G and 3G networks: report

The coalition agreement between the incoming ruling Likud party and United Torah Judaism reportedly includes a clause that will see Israel reverse course on a plan to phase out 2G and 3G cellular networks, in a bid to protect the availability of calls kosher phone lines. running on these older connectivity systems.

Many members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox communities use kosher phones, devices devoid of social media, text messaging and most other apps, on the advice of rabbis, in an attempt to protect themselves from the blatant vices of modern technology.

Since these devices are also often older, they support operability on technologies that are becoming obsolete.

In accordance with the plan announced last year to phase out 2G and 3G networks, Israel began banning the commercial importation of mobile devices powered by these older technologies starting in January.

Next month, under the plan, cellular network operators would stop connecting new mobile devices to 2G and 3G networks, but would still be required to serve existing customers on these networks until the end of 2025, when a full shutdown of these networks were expected.

The idea, according to the Ministry of Communications, was to free up scarce cellular frequencies in favor of more advanced technologies based on 5G networks, touted as promising an exponential leap in the amount and speed of wireless data delivery and a step to unlock new opportunities for the Israeli economy.

“Shutting down the old networks will free up frequencies and allow for a technological leap, improving the quality of cellular services and promoting the Israeli industry and economy,” the director general of the Ministry of Communications said at the time.

United Torah Judaism President Yitzchak Goldknopf and MPs Ya’akov Tessler and Meir Porush arrive for a court hearing on a petition against kosher cell phone reform, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, July 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Plans by the Communications Ministry to reform Israel’s mobile phone and cellular communications sector have been unpopular with ultra-Orthodox parties and their communities. The approval of a plan this spring directing mobile phone companies to allow full number mobility on kosher lines it provoked fierce opposition from many ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

Channel 12 reported on Monday that as part of the deal, Likud agreed to UTJ’s demand to scrap the plan to shut down the 2G and 3G networks and leave them operational, mainly to benefit ultra-Orthodox mobile phone customers.

According to the report, an anonymous Communications Ministry official said the move would cost the Israeli public millions and set the country back years. The official explained that the shutdown of 2G-3G networks would be required to allow new technological upgrades.

Devices running on the older networks are significantly cheaper with an average cost of NIS 89 ($25) compared to devices running on 4G networks, priced at more than NIS 500 ($142), according to the Channel 12 market research.

Outgoing Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel told 103FM radio on Monday that “whoever wrote that clause [in the coalition deal] he must have been drunk.

Hendel, who pushed the outgoing government’s plan, said the reported new move “is the biggest damage being done to coalition deals: the Haredi politician who signed it probably has no idea about the infrastructure.”

Ultra-Orthodox politicians were furious at Hendel’s efforts throughout his tenure at the Ministry of Communications, which they viewed as deliberately aimed at subverting the wishes of their community.

Communications Minister Yoaz Henkell in Modi’in, December 5, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Hendel also oversaw the move to allow phone number portability for kosher phones, leading UTJ MK Moshe Gafni to label him a “rude dictator” seeking to “impose his opinion” on a disinterested public.

Mobility allows users to keep their original phone numbers even if they transfer to a new service provider and start using a smartphone, something many rabbinical authorities strongly oppose.

The battle over the increasing use of smartphones and the Internet in the Haredi world is one of the fiercest fights within the community.

In October, a mobile phone shop in the ultra-Orthodox Geula neighborhood of Jerusalem, which sold both kosher and regular smartphones, was burn. A man from Bet Shemesh He was arrested on suspicion of arson and later accused for the crime

The man’s arrest sparked a violent protest in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem, prompting a woman to walk past seriously injured after she was struck by a burning dumpster that had been pushed over by protesters.

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