By Steven Scheer
JERUSALEM, July 20 (Reuters) - Israel's Communications Minister on Monday said he would seek to speed up deployment of a long-delayed nationwide fibre optics network that would provide incentives to include less profitable rural areas.
A government committee recommended to Yoaz Hendel - whose ministry is also the telecommunications regulator - a plan that would allow for a fibre network in much of Israel in the next few years.
The rollout of a fibre network had been held up due to a battle between Bezeq BEZQ.TA, Israel's main telecoms group, and the Communications Ministry. The regulator demanded Bezeq deploy in all of Israel, while Bezeq argued it was not financially viable to do so in some rural areas.
But the regulator has eased its demand to deploy everywhere. Bezeq's smaller rivals, Cellcom CEL.TA and Partner Communications PTNR.TA, have begun to establish their own fibre networks.
One key recommendation by the panel was that Bezeq roll out its network in most of the country within five years and receive undisclosed incentives to do so.
At the same time, a fund would be created from revenues from Bezeq and its rivals to finance fibre deployment in areas where Bezeq will not deploy. Smaller firms could bid for the business.
Hendel said the fund would start operating in 2021 so that deployment in rural areas would be carried out at the same time as in more profitable areas.
He added that he intends to go beyond the committee's recommendations to "shorten the process as much as possible".
Bezeq has said it has invested tens of millions of shekels in the past two years to upgrade its network to double internet surfing speeds, while also investing in a fibre network that it said can reach 1.5 million households.
(Reporting by Steven Scheer; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)
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