It's not often you find yourself in the middle of a very public row between an incumbent telco and an ISP, writes Russell Southwood. On 7 April, I chaired a session at the CTO Bradband conference looking at Roll-out from a Regulator, Operator and Governmental Perspective. The three speakers included Ghana's Deputy Minister of Communications, a representative from Ghana Telecom and Leslie Tamakloe, the CEO of Internet Ghana. The representative from the Ghana's regulator the National Communications Authority did not turn up.

In the session, each speaker in turn looked at the impact of broadband from their different position. The representative from Ghana Telecom described its launch of its Broadband4U service. Leslie Tamakloe of Internet Ghana was the last speaker on and his presentation detailed a number of frustrations with the incumbent. He also outlined a number of allegations about its operator access agreement that it signed with Ghana Telecom in June 2004. As the Chair of the session, I gave the Ghana Telecom representative the opportunity to respond to the allegations as there are two sides to every story. He said that he disagreed with a number of the points made in the presentation but that he did not want to say more than that.

In a letter sent to the regulator the NCA on 8 April the day after the presentation, the incumbent telco threatened to sue Tamakloe of Internet Ghana (for the sum of 10 billion cedis) for the remarks he made:

"The presentation contains IGH's allegations against Ghana Telecom that are currently before the NCE. This presentation by IGH of allegation in an international forum does the following:

1. Is highly unprofessional on the part of IGH;
2. Intentionally gives Ghana Telecom bad publicity in an international forum;
3. Gives Ghana Telecom bad publicity in an international forum with reckless disregard for the truth and without factual basis;
4. Is not an act in good faith on the part of IGH and detracts from a round table conference to amicably solve any issues between IGH and GT; and
5. Undermines the authority of the NCA as a regulator.

The presentation by IGH as circulated and later presented contains defamatory information about Ghana Telecom. This has occurred at a time when Ghana Telecom is undergoing an image building campaign and as at the date of the publication of false information has spent in excess of four billion cedis (¢4,000,000,000.00) on the said image building campaign. Ghana Telecom provides service internationally and has international clients, publication of such false information negatively impacts Ghana Telecom's image building campaign.

The defamatory information published by IGH will give the international audience at the Broadband Conference the false negative picture of Ghana Telecom intentionally stifling competition.

IGH should be made to pay Ghana Telecom compensation for its publication of defamatory information about Ghana Telecom. It is one of the maxims of equity that “he who comes to equity must come with clean hands”. Seeking amicable settlement of a dispute is seeking an equitable settlement. IGH's presentation containing allegations which are before the NCA and containing defamatory information about Ghana is clearly at variance with this maxim of equity. IGH cannot be seeking justice with one hand and playing foul with the other".

Tamakloe responded in a letter on 15 April, arguing that the Conference was organised by a reputable organisation (the CTO) and it was concerned to present the true state of affairs in Ghana on this issue:"My presentation therefore, was to showcase the TRUE state of affairs of InternetGhana experience in our ongoing to rolling out Broadband services in Ghana.

My presentation is an outline of our experience, it is a true representation of our experience, all details submitted are factual and can be proven in a court of law, supported by the subpeano of clients to testify to the truth of our statements as presented".

In response, Ghana Telecom sent a letter on 18 April providing a detailed rebuttal of the points raised by Internet Ghana. Two items of interest emerge:

Firstly Broadband 4U and its mobile operation One Touch will be turned into separate business units:

"Pursuant to the NCA directive dated 15th September, 2004 for the structural separation of ONEtouch and Broadband 4U from Ghana Telecom, Ghana Telecom has embarked on reorganizing its structure.  From a business perspective this process has to be a gradual one.  We also need to comply with applicable laws and obtain certain approvals internally.  We have started the process with ONEtouch and are currently waiting for the majority shareholder of Ghana Telecom to approve the legal separation of ONEtouch".

"Broadband 4U is still in its formative stages after its commission in September 2004.  We are in the process of converting it into a business unit.  As a business unit we can then determine its viability before it can be separated legally.  The separation of Broadband 4U will be done when we separate Ghana Telecom retail from Ghana Telecom wholesale.  Revenue from Broadband 4U is a separate line item.  We are working on putting in place an Enterprise Resource Panning system that will enable us achieve total account separation".

Secondly, Ghana Telecom was initially unable to invoice its broadband clients:"Broadband 4U is not offering free service to its clients.  Since the inception of the service after its commission in September 2004, the Customer Management and Billing System (CMBS) could not generate invoices to be sent to clients.  This has almost been rectified and invoices will be sent out to clients in April 2005.  These invoices will cover all amounts due and payable for past service and set up fees.  In December 2004, manual generated invoices were sent to clients by courier.  This was followed by demand notes in March 2005". 

To an outsider, Ghana Telecom's threat to sue appears an attempt to quash criticism of its business practises. And whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, suppressing public discussion of issues through legal threats cannot be a a sensible way to conduct business. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that Ghana Telecom is behaving this way towards Tamakloe as he is a forthright Chair of GISPA, the Ghana ISP Association.