SEEN AND HEARD: PROMOTING BROADBAND INFRASTRUCTURE AND SERVICES - ITU FORA, MAPUTO

Digital Content

* A questioner from the floor asked what AfriNIC was and whether it had any relationship to the promotion of broadband. None of the panel seemed to have heard of Africa's newly-formed domain name registry. What was even stranger was that both AfriNIC and the African Network Operators Group (AFNOG) - both internet organisations - were holding their meetings only two buildings away in the same complex. Somehow if everyone is to get to seriously get to grips with promoting broadband in Africa these two parallel universes will have to start visiting each other more often.

* Ernest Ndukwe, CEO, Nigerian Communications Commission shared a widespread concern when he asked Brian Cheeseman, e-Africa Commision how the EASSy fibre cable would enable new entrants to sign on and have landing rights:”I’d like to put out a note of warning for those planning EASSy that new people should be allowed into the Club.” It’s notable that the only non-incumbents involved are MTN Uganda and South Africa’s Sentech.

Cheeseman told the meeting that Lesotho, Zambia and Burundi will shortly join the EASSy consortium and that Zimbabwe was interested. The Lesotho regulator is talking of purchasing capacity for the whole country and selling on an equal basis to all companies.

* Rosa Waldman, CompassRose International talking about creating public-private partnerships on the continent and went through a number of negative perceptions about the continent. One of these she described as the “human in-box” culture. When you turned up and stood in front of someone’s desk, you got their attention and promises of action. When you left, you no longer existed.

* Kauxique Magnalal of Schoolnet Mozambique explained how difficult it was to connect schools when a 64K line in Mozambique costs USD600 a month. Nevertheless it has plans to put computer labs in 300 schools and set up a students portal. Currently there are only 55 schools with computer labs that have on average 12 PCs. It has also been involved in launching a computer refurbishment centre at the Industrial Institute of Maputo.

* Bassamaritou Sanogo, Chef de Service of the Ivorian regulator spoke about how the reforms under way to simplify the regulatory structure and make it more effective. He talked about the need to put in place an interconnection regime with rules accepted by all players. The reforms would also put in place specific provisions for consumer protection and define universal access and it would be funded. There would also be a mechanism to guarantee the independence and stability of the regulator.

* Jussi Siltanen, Systems Marketing Manager, Nokia presented ways that mobile operators could reduce the lowest pre-pay unit to US50 cents, enabling them to grow usage amongst poorer users. Cost savings of around 70% are possible if the transaction is done electronically through the phone. He said that in several countries this kind of micro-payment might grow the addressable market by 20-40%. The catch? It needs specially enabled phones. He also described two “tweaks” to the network software – AMR (Adoptive Multi-rate Codec) and SAIC (Single Antennae Interference Cancellation) that allowed improved network capacity and coverage.

* Mike Nxele of telecoms training organisation Afalti described how t5he organisation had undergone a process of transformation. Since 2001 it has doubled the amount of courses it runs from 21 to 44. Over the same period participants went from 185 to 776. Better still it had gone from being supported by nine member countries to earning 54% of its own income. It has also begun to extend its geographic reach and will sign an MOU with the Ghana Telecom training college in June this year.

* Margo Stoeder of Vodacom’s regulatory team gave a feisty presentation protesting that the latest set of competition framework changes in Africa were likely to be off-putting to investors. She argued for a phased and managed approach with no quick changes. In particular she recommended that no changes be made without the commissioning of independent market studies (just watch 2-3 years go by while that happens). She suggested a cautious and managed approach, allowing new markets to develop. Mike Nxele, Afralti rather dryly observed later in the event that the mobile operators were facing new challenges with IP networks and that their comments were very similar to those from the incumbent telcos when they first faced the mobile operators.

On the more positive side, Stoeder is probably right that “price regulation should not be seen as the metric of ‘successful regulation’”. Regulators tended to try and drive prices down by addressing interconnect and consumer. Instead in our view, it probably makes sense to mandate open access to more mobile operators (in the form of MVNOs) and let competition do the job.