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Regulatory Stranglehold on ICT – Can FTTH Council Africa Make a Difference?

22 March, 2013
 
ICT Africa Writer
March 22, 2013

In the past, we addressed some aspects of ICT regulation that have profound negative impact on the development of ICTs in Africa.

One form of monopoly is where the incumbent and powerful telecommunication operators flex their muscles to thwart the survival of smaller emerging operators. I remember travelling from a conference in Kenya in 2006 with Paris Mashile, the former chairman of the South African regulator, the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA). I asked Paris why Telkom, the incumbent Telco in South Africa, was shutting down wireless ISPs in underserved areas where nobody else, including Telkom, was offering any services to the people. Paris’s response was short, “because Telkom has legal weapons of mass destruction”. My interpretation was that Telkom was too powerful and could easily manipulate any loopholes in the regulation to prevent smaller service providers. By now, this problem may have been remedied by the provision of electronic communication licenses to many service providers.

We also wrote here how Econent Wireless in Zimbabwe was suppressing emerging licensees, in particular Aquiva Wireless, by refusing them their legal right to interconnect with the Econet wireless network. Ironically, Econet Wireless broke the telecommunication monopoly in Zimbabwe by successfully forcing the government to grant them a wireless license. Now that Econet is powerful, they are now suppressing newbies from participating in the market.

Investment in ICT infrastructure has been slowed in many African countries by the refusal or delays by governments to grant rights of way to deploy terrestrial fiber optic networks. In some cases, it can take years for the rights of way to be granted.

Long delays in granting spectrum licenses to mobile operators is another regulatory setback that is slowing down progress in the ICT sector. Sometimes governments are just not sure how to divide the limited resource among operators and the process can take years.

We hope that the move by the FTTH Council Africa to help governments with ICT regulation will go a long way to address these issues. The FTTH Council Africa is an association of African operators an solution providers with a mission to support the deployment of optical fibre throughout the African continent. At the moment, the organisation is focusing on South Africa but expects to expand its activities to the rest of the continent. So far they have drafted a regulatory document which will be reviewed by the Department of Communications and ICASA. FTTH Council Africa is a non-profit organization and offers their services to governments free of charge. However, we also notice that the key members of the organization are powerful incumbent operators. We hope that they don’t design the regulation to benefit the powerful telcos at the expense of smaller service providers who play an important role, especially in underserved areas.


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