INTERNET

BOTSWANA INTERNET COMPANIES CHALLENGE BTC-BOTSNET

The country's largest Internet Service Provider, Botsnet and the incumbent, Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) are being investigated by the Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA) after a group of ISPs filed a protest with the regulatory body accusing BTC of bad business practice.

The issue, which is still being investigated, may have far-reaching consequences for Botsnet, including possibilities of confiscation of operating licence, according to observers. The BTC chief executive officer, Vincent Seretse, confirmed to Monitor that a complaint against his corporation's dealings with Botsnet has been filed with the regulatory body but said he was unable to give a detailed report about the issue at press time. Botsnet's finance and administration manager, Maynard Mthetho, refused to comment saying he did not want to get himself into trouble over the issue.

"I don't know who sent you. I am not even sure where you come from. I better not comment. This issue is very sensitive," he said. However, a lawyer at the BTA, Tebogo Tau, confirmed that they are handling a case in which a group of local Internet companies have filed complaints against both the BTC and Botsnet. However, she said she was not in position to divulge the findings as it is still too early t o do so. The concerned Internet companies were not willing to say their names at this time when investigations are still on going. Monitor is informed that top on the list of the local ISPs' grievances are the question of the relationship between Botsnet and the BTC. They allege that Botsnet is a subsidiary of BTC and it was established to have a stake in the new ISP business in Botswana.

They give the example that Botsnet has not been operating like other parastatals over the years as it only appointed a board last year. The complaining ISPs also cite the fact that all of Botsnet board members also double as BTC board members as proof of BTC's vested interest in the ISP. The aggrieved ISPs claim that as a result of the BTC and Botsnet's mother- child relationship, the BTC, which is also responsible for the provision of an enabling environment for ISPs in Botswana, tends to favour Botsnet in their provision of products and services so that Botsnet appears to be the best ISP in Botswana.

The ISPs allege that Botsnet has all the latest services and products that the BTC provides while it is so expensive and time consuming for other ISPs to acquire the same products and services. They say some of those services and products include Virtual Dial-up Network (VDN) or Virtual Point of Presence (VpoP) service, Leased lines, ISDN, Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) as well as equipment. The ISPs wonder how Botsnet has been able to acquire all the latest services and products in the market while they are offered to other ISPs at exorbitant prices.

The ISPs have asked the regulatory body to investigate whether BTC has a price for Botsnet and the other prices for the rest of the ISPs. They believe that these top range products and services were designed by BTC exclusively for Botsnet because no other local ISPs can afford them. The Internet companies have complained that as a result of the prevailing atmosphere, they cannot afford to be as efficient as Botsnet. They also complain that the prevailing business environment in the country has forced many of them to buy equipment overseas which is extremely costly. The aggrieved Internet companies say the prevailing business atmosphere in the country has resulted in only one company - Botsnet - growing tremendously while others are struggling. It is not the first time that local Internet companies have complained to the regulatory body about the BTC- Botsnet relationship, having filed a similar complaint back in 2001.

Mmegi/The Reporter

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