Celtel’s Uganda licence extended while new licences under scrutiny

Telecoms

Celtel Uganda can now firmly proceed with its future business plans for the telecom market following the approval of the extension of its operation license by the Ugandan Communications Commission, on February 8.

Patrick Masambu, the executive director of Ugandan Communications Commission (UCC), a body in charge of licensing and regulating telecommunication companies in Uganda, endorsed the license's extension at a public hearing of the performance of Celtel in Uganda, in Kampala, last week.

The endorsement followed a presentation of a report on Celtel's performance under its 1993 and 2001 License regimes, by UCC. Celtel is seeking to renew its 1993 Cellular telecommunication's license which was reviewed in 2001, before it expires on September 17 this year.

The 2001 Licence gave the company the mandate to provide Cellular services on similar terms as other operators and imposed obligations that it was required to be fulfilled in accordance with the sector development objectives.

These requirements included; roll out expansion to cover 99.9 per cent of the population, improve the quality of services, maintenance of confidentiality of all communications over its network, payment of a one per cent levy on its Gross Annual Revenue and customer care by July 2005. Masambu said that Celtel has met all these obligations in its 15 years of operations by almost 100 per cent.

"The commission intends to recommend to the Minister of Information and Communication Technology to grant an extension of Celtel's license to operate under the new licensing regime unless there are valid and substantial objections to the proposed extension," Masambu told a gathering at Hotel African.

As Warid Telecom was in the final stages for the commercial launch of its services in Uganda last week, questions on how it acquired the operational license hang in the air. Members of Parliament on the Parliamentary Committee on ICT say that the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) should not have allowed new entrants, Warid Telecom and Hits Telecominto the telecom industry.

The MPs argue that they should not have been allowed to operate without paying the required license fees and other operational charges or even the guarantee money amounting to about US$2 million. The committee's chairperson Edward Baliddawa opened a can of worms on the issue when he told members that a section of the public was concerned that the new entrants in the telecom sector were given a leeway to start operations in Uganda contrary to the Telecommunications Act 1993.

He said that some unnamed group of people is preparing to petition Parliament against this action by the regulator, UCC to exempt the new players from paying the license fees and the guarantee money. "The committee as the overseer of the sector was not informed about the rationale of exempting these new companies from paying license fees which is not in order," he said.

The Monitor and the East African Business Week