Home Africa and the Middle EastAfrica and the Middle East 2004 Regulations for full connectivity in Botswana

Regulations for full connectivity in Botswana

by david.nunes
Twoba Boikaego Koontse Issue: Africa and the Middle East 2004
Article no.: 4
Topic: Regulations for full connectivity in Botswana
Author: Twoba Boikaego Koontse
Title: Director, Communications and Consumer Affairs
Organisation: The Botswana Telecommunications Authority
PDF size: 572KB

About author

Mr Twoba Boikaego Koontse is the Director of Communications and Consumer Affairs of the Botswana Telecommunications Authority. Mr Koontse joined the Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA) as Chief Corporate Affairs Officer and was later appointed to his current post. Mr Koontse began his career in government with Botswana’s Department of Foreign Affairs. There, he served as First Secretary to the Botswana High Commission, first in London then in Harare. He was later named the Deputy High Commissioner in Lusaka. He began professionally as a teacher and rose quickly to the post of Headmaster of the school. Mr Koontse holds a BA and a Diploma in Education from the University of Botswana. In 1996 he earned a Certificate in Diplomacy and International Relations from the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Article abstract

Today, technology has developed to a point where single networks can provide all sorts of services, from fixed to mobile to Internet and broadcasting. Convergence of technologies is gradually making it difficult to comfortably differentiate between ‘telecommunications’ and other forms of communication. This has made the already complex regulatory function even more difficult and sometimes impossible. The regulatory framework is the single most important and difficult area in telecommunications policy today and it is likely to remain so for many years to come.

Full Article

The Botswana Telecommunications Authority, BTA, is a statutory agency established in December 1996 by the Telecommunications Act, 1996 [No. 15 of 1996]. The agency is responsible for the licensing of telecommunications and broadcasting operators, approving tariffs, promoting and monitoring free and fair competition, allocating and managing the radio spectrum, type-approving terminal equipment and protecting consumers. It is also charged with settling disputes among operators; its decisions can only be reviewed by Botswana’s High Court. Today, technology has developed to a point where the telecommunications industry is generally in agreement that it is possible to have single networks providing all sorts of services, from fixed to mobile to Internet and broadcasting. In fact, convergence of technologies is gradually making it difficult to comfortably talk about ‘telecommunications’ without worrying that one could, be talking about other forms of communication that may not, per se, be telecommunications. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) itself has acknowledged this fact: “Technology that theoretically provides access from any place on Earth is available. Universal access is now not an engineering or supply side problem but rather a regulatory and policy challenge” (ITU, WTDR 1998). Difficulties in regulation This state of current affairs has made the already complex regulatory function even more difficult and sometimes impossible. With a developing telecommunications market and a fairly young regulatory authority, Botswana, like many other countries, finds herself confronted with the regulatory issues that have arisen as a result of of new technology and innovations in the sector. The issue is that technological innovations create new opportunities and/or threats that can be exploited in the market place faster than policy and regulation can adapt to the new circumstances. In short, technological changes can erode the ‘natural monopoly’ and alter the market boundaries, introducing competition between providers of traditionally different services. The dilemma for us as regulators is that, on the one hand, we have an obligation to level the playing field so that competition can flourish and offer consumers choice while, on the other hand, we have to be convinced that the innovative technologies that seek to find their way into the market are not going to bring more problems into the very market they intend to develop. Getting the balance right is at the very heart of regulation. In Botswana, the current regulatory regime has opted for issuance of separate licences for different services. As such, a fixed line service requires a separate licence, as do mobile services, internet services, or broadcasting services. This, of course, means that there have to be different networks for each of these services. In terms of the law, telecommunications service even falls under a different regulatory authority than the broadcasting service. The Telecommunications Policy for Botswana of 1995 advocated a controlled liberalisation of the telecommunications industry, fearing that introduction of competition would be a threat to the incumbent government-owned fixed line operator: “National telecommunications services i.e. services covering more than one local network would require a licence. As granting of such licences would be a major threat to Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC), it is necessary to decide at Cabinet level to what extent such competition is desirable. In support of universal service goal, competition in fixed networks i.e. duplication in infrastructure should initially be discouraged. The more of the existing network capacity is used, the easier it becomes to justify and fund further expansion of the network…” Thus, in the case of Botswana, it was felt that it would be ideal, in the initial stages of the introduction of competition, to avoid a sudden increase in the number of market players as this could lead to lower service prices, but could also reduce network operator profit and lead to disruption of services. However, the government has realised that separating broadcasting regulation from telecommunication regulation duplicates duties, especially as the telecoms regulator of the Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA), also serves as the Secretariat to the broadcasting authority, the National Broadcasting Board (NBB). Plans to merge the two regulatory bodies into one are already at an advanced stage. Separation of networks: a complex issue Although meant to bring in competition, separation of networks can also add to the problems of interconnection as quite often and this applies to Botswana as well, the fixed line operators who are competitors in the market own the main backbone network. As such, competitors often see the negotiation of interconnection rates with the fixed line operator as unfair. Botswana has already dealt with two interconnection disputes: between the fixed line operator and mobile operators combined; and between the fixed line operator and one of the mobile operators. Suffice to say that interconnection disputes will always arise even where the networks are seamless, but their focus would change. Technology convergence raises a number of issues, both in the interconnection framework and the development of competition. The fundamental issue is whether competition will develop and what form it will take in the next generation networks. Is technology a driver of competition and deregulation, or will it promote industry consolidation and create the need for additional regulation? Technological changes have created economies of scope that cut across formerly separate markets and thus create incentives for an incumbent in one market to enter into other markets. For example, most of the incumbents have established Internet Service Provider subsidiaries to provide Internet services and other data services. This is the current situation in Botswana. Technology can improve competition if it creates new entry incentives and opportunities. However, there is also a possibility that technology may be a driver in the opposite direction. In future we may have a single, multi-product monopolist offering integrated packages of voice, data and video services on a single network platform. The IP-based networks are able to carry all three: voice, data and video on a single platform. The question of the vertical scope of telecommunications firms also arises. For instance, do economies of scale and scope extend to the joint provision of content and conduit? In 3G networks, should the cellular providers also being interested in provision of content? Network capability is not valuable unless there are applications that take advantage of it. The bundling strategies and the exploitation of network effects all raise issues of interconnection policy. Whether bundling strategy and network effects will reduce competition depends critically on the development of wholesale markets and the interconnection regulatory framework. The interconnection regulatory framework will shape whether technology promotes new and increased competition, or results in further consolidation and concentration of market powers. The regulatory framework of interconnection and local loop unbundling is the single most important and difficult, area in telecommunications policy today and it is likely to remain so for many years to come. Conclusion Seamless networks theoretically have the potential to increase connectivity substantially, but whether or not that really would be practicable remains to be seen. Again, seamless networks are still as far-fetched, particularly for us, as for most of the developing world. While they promise ultimately to benefit the consumer, they also threaten to undermine the huge investments already in place by reducing the potential return on capital investment. It also remains to be seen how compensation between networks will be worked out under a seamless arrangement. As it is, compensation between networks is already complicated enough under the current arrangement. Lastly, before seamless network arrangement can be fully implemented and supported, the world needs to be assured that the technology will not, one day, hold the entire world incommunicado due to the malfunctioning of a single part of that network.

Related Articles

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More