BOCRA Response - Does BOCRA Deliver on A Connected and Informed Society

BOCRA does Deliver on a Connected and Informed Society

BOCRA has noted in the Sunday Standard of 3-5 June 2018, an article apparently written by a Concerned Citizen titled Is BOCRA really delivering on a connected and informed society?

The article is an opinion piece that does not call for a response. However, it presents the opportunity for BOCRA to shed light on some of the issues raised, in the interest of consumer education.

The article raises a rhetorical question whether BOCRA is delivering on a connected and informed society. The state of communications in Botswana is open to public assessment and varied conclusions. However, ICT connectivity is measured locally, regionally and internationally on the basis of Access, Usage and ICT Skills. As at March 2016, mobile phone access stood at 3.5 million subscribers, meaning that there were 3.5 million active mobile simcards in use in Botswana. There were also 1.4 Million mobile phone internet users in Botswana. These statistics places Botswana at position five in Sub Saharan Africa behind Mauritius, Seychelles, South Africa and Cape Verde. Globally Botswana ranks position 105 out of 176 countries in the world with Cape Verde at 93, South Africa 92, Seychelles 90 and Mauritius 72. Only four other Arab states of Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia rank above Botswana at positions 99, 100, 102 and 103 respectively. However, for purposes of global comparisons the North African countries are grouped with Middle East countries because of commonalities of their economic environments. Mobile penetration has placed Botswana as one of the major users of mobile broadband internet as evidenced by the country raking among the highest in Africa in terms of usage of social media particularly Facebook.

The article also refers to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) and incorrectly concludes that to date no single transmitter has been established. The correct information is that in terms of transmission network, Botswana has concluded countrywide transition to DTT. The national Broadcaster, Btv, has launched its DTT service and in places like Ghanzi the analogue transmission has been switched off. In terms of the private broadcasters, BOCRA has invited applications for licensing on the digital terrestrial platform. However, no license has been awarded as none of the applications received so far met the licensing requirements. In view thereof, BOCRA continues to explore other avenues including infrastructure sharing to accommodate potential local applicants. The process is ongoing and already some private broadcasters are accommodated on the government network albeit on trial basis. It is important to note that BOCRA, in line with international best practice has indeed created the necessary regulatory environment to attract private investment on digital platform. The challenge is with potential licensees meeting set requirements.

Concerned Citizen also makes reference to the BOCRA Chief Executive having prioritised Connect Botswana. Indeed, the Chief Executive has prioritised connecting Botswana. It is in pursuit of this priority that BOCRA has created a Fund called the Universal Access and Service Fund (UASF), which Fund currently has a project to connect all Primary schools in Mabutsane Region, Ganzi District and Kgalagadi Districts. A total of sixty-eight primary schools are all receiving 5 Mbps internet connectivity, 50 educational tablets per school and other ICTs peripherals including network printers. The Fund is also sponsoring upgrades of all mobile base stations in the same areas to a minimum of 3G capacity. Further, the Fund has a project to enhance connectivity along Trans- Kalahari Highway. The tender for this project is undergoing evaluation. All these initiatives are carried out to facilitate connectivity.

The article questions why BOCRA is interested in tariffs of licensed operators while there are Over The Top (OTTs) services like Netflix and Facebook that are not regulated. It is important for the Concerned Citizen to understand that BOCRA has a legal mandate to regulate tariffs of operators licensed in Botswana for the protection of Botswana consumers. BOCRA regulates Mobile Termination Rates (MTRs) because MTRs are by their nature a monopoly. In other words, for a subscriber to receive a call, only Mascom or Orange or BTCL can receive and terminate that call. Therefore, only those three can determine what to charge for handling the call. Hence, BOCRA intervenes to ensure that the MTRs reflect the cost of terminating the calls.

OTTs are a Value Add service that rides on the networks of traditional carriers. The industry worldwide, including traditional carriers, continue the debate to find an acceptable method of regulating and pricing the OTTs taking into consideration the important role they play in addressing consumer needs that is different from that of traditional carriers. It is also important to understand that traditional telecommunications operators and media as the Concerned Citizen refers to them, control a large share of the market because most of them started off as monopolies and subsequent ones enjoyed periods of regulatory protection when market entry was controlled. Therefore, they have the potential to use their market power to maximise benefits from the market to the detriment of consumers.

Finally, it is worth noting that BOCRA never took any operator to court. In all the cases that have been or are before the courts, BOCRA appears as a respondent.

Aaron Nyelesi 
Deputy Director Corporate Communications 

Monday, June 18, 2018