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CHAKULA Issue #18: CICEWA reports, news stories, discussions

Contents

1. Uganda: Milking a cow you don’t feed

2. Tanzania: A ‘pushy’ policy on broadband falls short

3. Rwanda: Upbeat, but policy gaps still niggle…

4. Kenya: Killing two birds with one stone

5. South Africa: Urgent call for input into ‘vague’ broadband policy released by government

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What is CICEWA?

The landing of undersea telecommunications cables on the east coast of Africa in 2009 – starting with Seacom and The East African Marine System (TEAMS) and to be followed in 2010 by the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) – creates an important opportunity for the countries of East Africa to develop affordable broadband access to the internet for all. A 2009 World Bank report* has analysed the impact of broadband on growth in 120 countries from 1980 to 2006, showing that each 10 percentage points of broadband penetration results in a 1.21% increase in per capita GDP growth in developed countries, and a 1.38% increase in developing countries. Investing in broadband is an investment in economic growth and development.

However, this opportunity takes place against a backdrop of the implementation of telecommunications reform policy over the last fifteen years that has shaped the environment into which the new bandwidth will arrive. It is important to understand this history and some of the problems that occurred in the implementation of telecom reform policy so as not to repeat them in the era of broadband internet access. This is the approach of the Communication for influence in Central, East and West Africa (CICEWA) project. The project emphasises ‘communications for influence’, linking advocacy, dissemination and research by building information and communications technology for development (ICTD) networks in Central, East and West Africa.

The project’s overall objectives are to:

* Conduct research that will identify obstacles to universal affordable access to broadband ICT infrastructure in a number of countries and sub-regions in East, Central and West Africa and,

* To develop two sub-regional ICT policy advocacy networks that will disseminate research and undertake advocacy on ICTD and access to infrastructure at the sub-regional level.

CICEWA recently co-ordinated research in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. In each case the research sought to investigate the history of communications policy and pointed to a number of problems arising in the way in which policy had developed, been implemented and was currently impacting on the goal of universal affordable broadband at the level of content and infrastructure. The researchers emphasised different dimensions of the policy outcomes, and took different approaches to their research task, given their fields of expertise and interest. As a result, the reports are different in structure and methodology – however, they all provoke the question central to the CICEWA project: what learning lessons does the policy narrative of a country hold for today?

With the arrival of high-speed cables, East Africa is moving towards a single market in communications. This will require greater policy and regulatory harmonisation at the national and regional level and a willingness to create forums to debate the best way of doing this. We
hope that the research will contribute to this process by highlighting some of the problems that have arisen that will impact on the new converged broadband environment in a single East African community.

This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Ottawa, Canada.

  • See: Information and Communications for Development 2009: Extending
    Reach and Increasing Impact: web.worldbank.org

Key links:

To find out more about the CICEWA project visit: http://www.apc.org/en/node/9321/

EASSY
www.eassy.org

Seacom
www.seacom.mu

TEAMS
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TEAMS_(cable_system)

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1. Uganda

Link to full research report: www.apc.org/en/node/9310/

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Milking a cow you don’t feed: Is Uganda starving telecoms growth through high taxes?

Analysts argue that governments in cash-strapped developing countries often tread a tightrope between a need to shore up the state coffers for public spending, and a responsibility to address critical telecommunications access for the poor. Telecommunications make money – lots of it – and many governments know that this money can be used to fund basic services, such as water, housing and electricity. But in the process universal access promises go adrift, as is the case with Uganda’s high taxes on telecoms services, write Wairagala Wakabi and Alan Finlay.

To read the full story: www.apc.org/en/news/milking-cow-you-don-t-feed-uganda-starving-telecom

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“The thinking seems to be that if a policy is going to help raise tax revenues, every other government policy or commitment can take the back seat.”

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Interview with Wairagala Wakabi

CHAKULA: Uganda has no taxes on PC imports, but high taxes on mobile and fixed-line phone services. Does the government not see this as a contradiction?

WAIRAGALA WAKABI [WW]: Quite clearly the drivers of the Ugandan finance and planning ministry seem to be aware that these taxes on telephone services are retrogressive – particularly given that they are excessively high. Telecom companies have advocated against them.
International agencies such as the GSM Association have provided evidence from research to show that they are among the very highest world over and that they restrain the spread of affordable services.
The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has equally commissioned studies and publicised their findings which indicate that the taxes are subtracting from efforts to achieve universal service. But the telecoms industry in Uganda is a big taxpayer, and it is hard to find new or alternatives tax revenue sources in a small economy such as Uganda’s. So while studies have shown that a reduction on excise taxes would ultimately result into higher tax revenues for government (because it would enable many more people to access telephone services), government seems to be unsure that this would be the case.
It has knowingly chosen to maintain the taxes so it can be assured of the badly needed tax revenues it is getting at the moment from the high excise duties on telephone services.

CHAKULA: The GSM Association puts Uganda is one of 10 countries in the world with the highest taxes on mobile services. With mobile being the access technology for the poor, this is an incredible state of affairs, and – as you point out in your report – contradicts the country’s promising universal access programmes…

WW: Uganda introduced the excise taxes on mobile phone services at a rate of 7% in 2001 and has progressively grown it to 12%. When you add the value added tax of 18%, it adds up to 30%. Since 2005, there has been a 5% excise duty on landline services. That is obviously a contradiction to the universal service policy and other governmental commitments to make telecoms services affordable and a contributor to poverty reduction. The paramount considerations for the government seem to be improving tax revenues and widening the tax base from whatever sources. The thinking seems to be that if a policy is going to help raise tax revenues, every other government policy or commitment can take the back seat.

CHAKULA: How does the growth of the telecoms market in Uganda compare to other sectors in the country?

WW: The telecom sector has actually been among the fastest growing sectors in Uganda for many years now. The sector registered average annual growth rate of 20% over the five years preceding its full liberalisation, and a total of USD360 million was invested in the sub- sector during June 2007 to June 2008. But this growth should be seen more as a reflection of how crucial the Ugandan public views the need to communicate, rather than of the affordability of services. Research by the regulator, by think tanks such as Research ICT Africa, and by independent firms commissioned by telecom operators, all show that the growth would be way greater if the taxes were slashed. This is because tariffs would be lower, thereby enabling more people to afford services, and making it possible for telecom operators to extend their services portfolio and geographical areas covered.

CHAKULA: Are there any predictions of how lower taxes on telecoms would affect the telecoms sector’s performance?

WW: Independent studies have indicated that if the cost of using a phone in Uganda came down by half, 89% of phone users would increase their phone usage. Research commissioned by the regulator has shown that a reduction in the taxes would see a greater number of Ugandans affording telephone services.

CHAKULA: Are there any signs that the government might lower the taxes? If so, how would they replenish their coffers? For instance, would it be feasible to increase the Universal Service Fund (USF) tax on operators?

WW: In the June 2009 budget speech, the finance minister announced a range of progressive measures to grow the economy. But besides banning imports of “old” computers, nothing was said about ICTs. Ultimately, with international fibre now landing in Mombasa, and two of Uganda’s neighbours – Kenya and Rwanda – continuing to make the right moves to encourage the growth of the ICT sector, and also working to promote universal service, Uganda will have to cut taxes on mobiles. It could make up on ‘lost revenue’ by the increases in revenues arising from more people affording and consuming telephone services, meaning telecom companies pay more to the treasury. It could also raise the collected USF from the current 1% of operators’ gross annual revenues – as it recommended in the revision to the rural communications development policy. In fact, the policy stipulates that the USF contribution from operators can be up to 2.5% of their gross annual revenues, meaning even under the current dispensation government can collect a higher proportion of operators’ earnings for the USF.

Key links:

GSM Association
www.gsmworld.com

Legislation can be downloaded at Uganda Communications Commission
www.ucc.co.ug

Research ICT Africa
www.researchictafrica.net

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2. Tanzania

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It’s not enough to have a pushy broadband policy in Tanzania

By most standards, Tanzania’s information and communications technology (ICT) policy looks ambitious. In just six years, it wants to make the country a hub of telecommunications infrastructure to help build the economy and end poverty. But John Mireny argues that when it comes to broadband, this vision lacks practical application, and is out of step with the real limitations on the ground…

To read the full story: www.apc.org/en/news/it-s-not-enough-have-pushy-broadband-policy-tanzan

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“[Low internet penetration] has been compounded by a lack of basic ICT skills, unreliable electric supplies – or total lack of it in rural areas, where even alternative forms of energy have not been developed.
And, as pointed out, broadband has not been strategically linked to real life expectations of improving governance, education, health and tourism.”

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Interview with John Mireny

CHAKULA: Tanzania is something of an anomaly. On the one hand, it has taken proactive note of broadband, and it is included in its National ICT Policy. This to the extent that regulations governing broadband have been developed. But at the same time, it does not seem to have paid enough attention to the basics: like using broadband for education, or health; or creating mechanisms to stimulate business; or the problem of rural take-up in Tanzania. Why do you think this disjuncture exists?

JOHN MIRENY [JM]: In the first place, although the National ICT Policy(2003) is by many comparative standards proactive, it had several missing links. Prime was a lack of linkages to the policy from other sectors, beginning with two decades of public and business apathy to the idea of using ICTs as tools for aiding development. Fiscal policies discouraged the importation of ICT gadgets and software as duties charged reached 30%. So when the government issued a notice on broadband service regulations in 2005, while adopting a converged licensing framework (CLF) to tap synergies that came from digitalisation, awareness was weak and new business opportunities behind the idea not realised. Secondly, efficient delivery of broadband services largely depend on available technology, most efficient being the fibre optic cables. Eastern Africa has had no undersea fibre optic cable to link it with the rest of global village since hoary history began. So even with the coming of Seacom and Nepad’s Uhurunet, a clear private-public partnership in developing a national President Kikwete terrestrial fibre optic network had to be quickly hatched. For this reason, on June 23 2009, President [Jakaya]
Kikwete summoned to the State House CEOs of three mobile phone companies operating in Tanzania — tiGO, Zain and Zantel. He impressed on them the idea of working jointly with government in order to develop 7,000 km of national ICT infrastructure backbone to link up all districts and regional headquarters. It is understood that each company wanted to go it alone, but the government believes that such solo investment strategies will most likely make broadband services high-priced. The government has already secured a USD170 million loan from the Chinese government to help build the terrestrial cable. The President directed the Ministry of Communication, Science and Technology to bargain with the companies and fix a deal as soon as
possible.

CHAKULA: Why has internet penetration been so low in Tanzania – and will broadband help this on its own?

JM: Although Tanzania has responded to convergence in the ICT sector, internet penetration in Tanzania is a mere 1%. Again, this is partly due to lack of awareness on the potential of ICTs in facilitating development. This has been compounded by a lack of basic ICT skills, unreliable electric supplies – or total lack of it in rural areas, where even alternative forms of energy have not been developed. And, as pointed out, broadband has not been strategically linked to real life expectations of improving governance, education, health and tourism.

CHAKULA: How important are the rural markets (however small they are) to East African countries? Are the cities not big enough to sustain big business? I am trying to get a sense of how the rural/urban divide works in a country like Tanzania, compared to say, South Africa.

JM: Rural markets/economic undertakings make up 43.2% of the country’s ‘retained’ GDP and 40% of total exports while employing close to 80% of population. Yet rural areas are the most underprivileged in terms of transport, communication and energy infrastructure, as well as education and health facilities. Some pockets of manufacturing are concentrated in the capital Dar es Salaam, where government collects 80% of its monthly revenues. Other so-called ‘cities’ are so named just for administrative expediency. Small and medium enterprises(SMEs) for processing farm products are very few and inefficient. Most crops, including coffee, cotton and cashew nuts are exported raw, fetching very little takings in turn.

CHAKULA: What are the key areas that the government needs to attend to when considering improving its broadband policy?

JM: The government needs to implement a nationwide awareness campaign about the policy and mobilise input from all stakeholders. It needs a comprehensive review: the broadband services regulations were hurriedly framed in order to suit CLF operations. It must also consider a smooth migration from analogue to digital gadgets for current analogue investors. A deadline has been put down for 2015, but a kind of subsidy would be needed to assist them during the transitional period. Resources could be drawn from the Universal Communications Access Fund and therefore spare taxpayers extra burdens.

CHAKULA: Are there any signs that it is going to take note of these problems?

JM: Yes. The President seems ready to take a lead on this. On its part, the regulator agrees that it will continue to face the policy and regulatory challenges of trying to lower the prices of services that are out of line with costs and consumer’s expectations. That calls for a balanced, clear, consistent, predictable, comprehensive and transparent regulatory framework. The regulator is now working toward the review and harmonisation of communication policies,
legislation and regulations.

Key links:

Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority
www.tcra.go.tz

ICT policies and legislation for Tanzania can be downloaded at:
www.tcra.go.tz/display.php?type=policies

More on Uhurunet:
www.eafricacommission.org/faq/what-are-uhurunet-umojanet-and-baharicom

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3. Rwanda

Link to full report: http://www.apc.org/en/node/9311/

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Rwanda’s policy vacuum could mean trouble for broadband

The imminent arrival of broadband in Rwanda has exposed a policy vacuum that desperately needs to be filled if the poor in the country are going to benefit from the information society. Having good plans is not enough, argue Emmanuel Habumuremyi and Alan Finlay.

To read the full report: www.apc.org/en/news/rwanda-s-policy-vacuum-could-mean-trouble-broadban

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“The country has reached a mobile penetration rate of 12% within two years, and still expects to reach 50% within the coming five years. All these give hope for a better position for Rwanda in the region in the future.”

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Interview with Emmanuel Habumuremyi

CHAKULA: Rwanda has an interesting history – a devastating one. That ICTs were so positively dealt with in the late 1990s shows the kind of pragmatism guiding the country’s post-genocide leaders. The country has a Vision2020; it is also the headquarters for the EASSy undersea cable; and many see the country as a beacon of hope in the region. Is this all wishful thinking – or, when it comes to ICTs, do you think Rwanda really does have something to say for itself, policy-wise?

EMMANUEL HABUMUREMYI [EH]: Well, the country’s endeavours suggest there is no doubt about it achieving its ICT goals. This is based on facts from the progress made after the genocide period. Today Rwanda has got the policies and plans in place to implement its 2020 vision, despite specific gaps like a lack of policy on broadband and competition law. More importantly, the government is showing its commitment in investing in ICT infrastructure such as the national fibre backbone, as well as assisting both pupils and communities to acquire laptops and mobile phones. The country has reached a mobile penetration rate of 12% within two years, and still expects to reach 50% within the coming five years. All these give hope for a better position for Rwanda in the region in the future.

CHAKULA: How is the laying of fibre going?

EH: The fibre project, along with other projects to support integration of ICT in socio and economic sectors, are being followed carefully from the top leadership. President [Paul] Kagame went late last year to South Korea to make sure that Korea Telecom, that is managing the implementation of the national fibre optic backbone, is well prepared. The project is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Kigali itself is already done and the launch of services was to start as early as July 2009. The country has engaged discussions with Seacom and TEAMS to get prepared for accessing the submarine cables as soon as they start operation. Rwanda is looking to spend the same amount of money spent today for buying international bandwidth to buy fibre bandwidth capacity (the current cost is USD6 million for 266 Mbps). The country expects to access high capacity bandwidth to distribute to schools, health centres, the private sector and government. This will inevitably provide a great opportunity to social and economic sectors in terms of enhancing communications and information dissemination with the rest of the world.

CHAKULA: Yet the government has no broadband policy. What should the ICT activist do about this?

EH: There is a need to support advocacy and make sure that the regulator gets the required expertise to initiate dialogue amongst the various stakeholders. The development of fibre, WiMAX and other broadband technologies will definitely put more pressure on the regulator and the ministry in charge of ICTs to make sure that a policy is developed.

CHAKULA: Rwanda has a pro-poor approach, and wants communities to be uplifted, in part through active participation in decision-making processes. Tell me more about this so-called “decentralisation policy”. How does it work? And has it been effective elsewhere (i.e. in sectors other than ICTs)?

EH: Historically Rwanda has experienced highly centralised governance systems and practices. Almost all decisions were from the top. After the war and the 1994 genocide, the leadership sought to decentralise governance and let people have a strong say in determining their socio-
politico-economic destiny. Nowadays, grassroots institutions have gained a local identity and have some sense of control over their local problems and interests. The lowest level of this decentralised structure is the cell, where all members of the cell who have reached voting age vote for members of the council. They also elect from among themselves an executive to manage their affairs at that level. This is direct participatory democracy. Of course we still have a long way to go in terms of building the required capacity for the community to take full responsibilities and handle the management of public facilities and resources.

CHAKULA: You say in your research that this decentralisation policy makes sense in terms of broadband. You are advocating for an open access community-driven network. Is there political will in the country for this kind of open access network?

EH: I believe that Rwanda is moving towards an open access model. We only need to put in place proper planning and mechanisms to ensure better management and scaling up of the model to the rural communities.

Key links:

Vision 2020
www.gesci.org/assets/files/Rwanda_Vision_2020.pdf

Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA)
www.rura.gov.rw

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4. Kenya

Link to full report: www.apc.org/en/node/9309

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Killing two birds with one stone

On 12 December last year – Kenya’s 44th independence-day celebrations – journalists, media owners and civil society activists took to the streets in Nairobi. They were protesting the publication of Kenya’s Communications Amendment Bill (2007) which was later passed into law.
But the media protests overshadowed a more complex challenge that lies at the heart of policy convergence in a networked world, write Rebecca Wanjiku and Alan Finlay…

To read the full story: www.apc.org/en/news/kenya-killing-two-birds-one-stone

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“It has been argued that the regulator can develop subsidiary legislation, but if the principle legislation is oppressive, the rules and regulations may not help much.”

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Interview with Rebecca Wanjiku

CHAKULA: Last year’s December protests showed the media objecting to new clauses in the Communications Amendment Bill. What was the main problem they had with the amendments?

REBECCA WANJIKU [RW]: The main problem was the power given to the minister of information and communication to confiscate telecommunication equipment in times of emergency. Though this clause was contained in the original Act (1998), the media felt it gave the minister powers to gag the media in cases like last year’s ban on live broadcast during post-election violence. The media was also aggrieved by the requirement that the regulator, the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), classify content to prevent the airing of adult content during “family” hours. The media felt that this requirement interfered with their editorial independence.

CHAKULA: Did ICT activists join the December protests – or was this a media-only affair?

RW: Because the Act was seen as a major step that recognised many ICT issues such as digital signatures and e-commerce, the ICT fraternity did not necessarily join the media in the demonstrations. Instead, economic and anti-corruption activists, calling for members of parliament (MPs) to pay taxes, joined in. The whole debate was seen as a battle between the media and Parliament. The activists argued that the MPs were punishing the media for pushing for MPs to pay taxes.

CHAKULA: The key danger, it seems, is that draconian legislation governing traditional media might impact negatively on content production for new media. What is the best way forward for new media? Can old and new media fall under the same policy umbrella, do you think?

RW: The best way forward is developing new legislation to address the various sectors of media. For instance, we can have a new Act governing issues to do with online content, which will be useful to journalists and online content developers and citizen journalists. It is important to legislate otherwise it will be a field people can misuse. It has been argued that the regulator can develop subsidiary legislation, but if the principle legislation is oppressive, the rules and regulations may not help much. We need laws that can be enforced,
even in court. The government and the public has to appreciate the dynamism of the ICT sector and put in place laws that will foster progression and not stifle developments made. Laws must be in tandem with global developments.

Key links:

Kenya Communications Act (1998)
www.cck.go.ke/sector_legislation_in_policy_and_legislation

For other legislation see Kenya Law Reports
www.kenyalaw.org

Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK)
www.cck.go.ke

KICTANet
www.kictanet.or.ke

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“The leadership and media have been ferried to Mombasa to witness the ‘arrival’ of the fibre; first in March 2009 for Seacom and in June for TEAMS. This was of course a gimmick to catch the high point of the first to market.”

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Interview with Kenyan ICT consultant Muriuki Mureithi on the landing of the Seacom submarine cable in Kenya

CHAKULA: In July Seacom landed in Kenya, amongst other East African countries. But Kenya was the first, as far as I know. What was the reaction like inside the country?

MURIUKI MUREITHI [MM]: When the cable was switched on the date was etched in Kenyan history equivalent to the coming of the railway a century ago. It will fundamentally change how Kenyans communicate among themselves and the world. Kenyans have suffered from high costs of bandwidth, and often unreliable bandwidth, so there is a very high sense of expectation. In the last few months there has been a flurry of activities by operators to build fibre metro rings and national fibre networks to immediately tap and benefit from the international fibre. At the same time there is stiff competition between the government-driven TEAMS cable and Seacom. The leadership and media have been ferried to Mombasa to witness the ‘arrival’ of the fibre; first in March 2009 for Seacom and in June for TEAMS. This was of course a gimmick to catch the high point of the first to market. The media has also played its role by pitting one cable against the other. Amongst consumers there is also heightened awareness through numerous workshops/seminars, training sessions and advertisements. What perhaps is not coming out clearly is what it all means to the end consumer in terms of shillings.

CHAKULA: Much work remains to actually get broadband connectivity to consumers. What are the next steps in Kenya? And who is co-ordinating them?

MM: Once the government took a decision to build its TEAMS fibre, which is now a public-private partnership, the government also commissioned a nation-wide fibre backbone that would cover up to 80% of the rural districts. This network, known as the National Optic Fibre Backbone Initiative, is extensive and will distribute capacity to the rural areas. Another player with a national wide fibre infrastructure is Kenya Data Network, now a subsidiary of Altech South Africa. Other players include Kenya Power and Lighting Company, Telkom Kenya and Wananchi Telecom. There are others. Finally, the biggest cellular operator is operating 3G and with it offering broadband in some towns outside Nairobi. There is therefore a concerted effort to take broadband out of Mombasa to the rest to country. This is being driven by government and the private sector.

CHAKULA: What are the pitfalls that stakeholders need to watch out for?

MM: The challenge will be the cost, and content to entice the consumer to use it. Stakeholders need to be careful that the benefits don’t stop trickling down to the consumers, and get lost among the operators. It is a challenge that can only be addressed by transparent competition and a watchful consumer lobby. Kenya has unfortunately not developed a strong consumer lobby. It is also necessary to put in place a strategy to ensure that small towns are covered by the broadband.

CHAKULA: Are the content industries already hatching plans for new online content projects?

MM: This is the greatest challenge for the country. It is weakest link in the chain. Government has plans to engage the rural population on local content production through digital villages.

CHAKULA: At a regional level, what is needed to synchronise the different broadband roll-out initiatives?

MM: Kenya is working with four east African partners to build a regional network. This needs to be co-ordinated to avoid gaps; especially in Burundi and partly Tanzania. The regional backbone will provide a seamless network providing redundancy across the region.
Countries which are not east African partners are not part of the regional infrastructure. While Kenya fibre literally stops at the Ethiopia and southern Sudan border, it is necessary for those countries to build their portion to enhance cross-border connectivity. We need a mechanism to synchronise this connectivity.

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5. More CICEWA stories…

Senegal: Behind the guise of competitive prices

Cyber-cafés are in decline in Senegal. A saturated market has resulted in the closure of many of these access points, once found around the clock on every street corner in Dakar. Meanwhile, the state-owned operator continues to control basic infrastructure, creating a mere fachade of competition among operators. APC’s Lisa Cyr reports…
To read the full story: www.apc.org/en/news/senegal-behind-guise-competitive-prices

Congo: internet access for a day’s wage

In the Congo, people are paying for a service that cannot even meet their needs. Poor connectivity and staggering costs that can be as high as USD2 make it difficult to promote widespread use of the internet. In a country where people earn as little as three to four
dollars (US) a day, it is impossible for 97% of Congolese to even access the internet. And those who do, are not guaranteed to get what they need from it: it can take over an hour to download a single file.
With the newly re-elected government back in power, ICTs are becoming an increasingly important issue for the country’s economic and social development. Will this new presidential term bring successful reforms to the sector? APC’s Lisa Cyr looks at the state of ICT policy in the country and the road ahead…
To read the full story: www.apc.org/en/news/congo-internet-access-day-s-wage

Benin: Where mobile users carry 3, 4, even 5 SIM cards to make a call

The telecoms situation in Benin is unique. Corruption, high prices, and an array of mobile telephone enterprises established during President Mathieu Kérékou’s regime has resulted in the average Beninese owning three, four, or even five SIM cards for their daily communication needs. It was not until the arrival of the country’s new president Yayi Boni in 2006 that reform in this sector began. But much remains to be done. APC’s Lisa Cyr reports…
To read the full story: www.apc.org/en/news/benin-where-mobile-users-carry-3-4-even-5-sim-card

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6. South Africa’s draft broadband policy too ‘general and vague’ say activists

Deadline for comment: 17 October 2009

The South African National Broadband Forum (SANBF) has called for public input into a draft broadband policy released by the South African government. This follows an upbeat meeting with the country’s Department of Communications, which seemed to suggest a “sea change” in approach following national elections earlier this year. However, the “positive vibe” of the meeting – see the interview with SANBF below – has been muted by what has been described as a “vague” and “general” broadband policy released by the department for public comment.

The national broadband policy was gazetted on 18 September 2009 and is open for comment until 17 October 2009.
See: http://www.doc.gov.za/images/stories/notice%20broadband%20policy.pdf

SANBF is a partnership between the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), South Africa Connect, SANGONeT (Southern African NGO Network), and the Shuttleworth Foundation.

It recently held a workshop where a multi-stakeholder draft policy on broadband was developed as part of a campaign to fill the broadband policy vacuum in South Africa. The draft policy was put on line (www.broadband4africa.org.za/), and the public was encouraged to support it, ahead of the national elections.

Chakula spoke to the Shuttleworth Foundation’s Steve Song about the meeting with the department.

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“The meeting had a positive vibe and they seemed very receptive to public input. This strikes me as a bit of a sea change from the previous stance of the Ministry.”

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CHAKULA: Do you feel the call for a Comprehensive National Broadband Strategy for South Africa was a success as an advocacy intervention? I see you garnered 1000 online ‘signatures’ for the draft policy – which I don’t think is too bad…

STEVE SONG [SS]: Personally I was a bit disappointed. We got 1716 individuals and 241 organisations to sign the framework, which is not bad but nothing compared to the fact that there are at least a million Facebook users in South Africa. The numbers should have been higher. I blame it partly on our message being more complex than necessary and also on a degree of cynicism in South Africa about what it will take to bring about change in this sector. We’ve been waiting 15 years for change with not very much to show.

CHAKULA: You met recently with the Department of Communications on the issue of a broadband policy. How did that meeting go?

SS: David Barnard [SANGONeT], Anriette Esterhuysen [APC] and I met with Rosey Sekese [Deputy DG – ICT Infrastructure Development]. Also at the meeting were Anneke Grond [Chief Director: ICT Infrastructure and Applications] and Norman Munzhelele [Acting DDG ICT Policy]. The meeting had a positive vibe and they seemed very receptive to public input. This strikes me as a bit of a sea change from the previous stance of the Ministry. Inevitably in such an introductory meeting,there wasn’t a great deal of substance, but we learned the following things:

1) The department appreciated the input and agreed in large part with the framework proposed by the broadband forum;

2) It had a draft national broadband policy which had been approved by the Minister and which was being circulated more widely within government;

3) The department welcomed public input and comment on the draft policy once it had been gazetted [which has now happened].

CHAKULA: Cynics saying nothing is possible without dealing with Telkom first. Your take on that?

SS: License enough new market entrants and give them access to enough spectrum and the market will take care of Telkom. Telkom (and the mobile operators for that matter) are experts at defending themselves from any remedial efforts by the regulator. Opening up the market is more likely to have an impact in my opinion.

CHAKULA: This is all about a policy advocacy window, given the change of government. Are you optimistic about getting a proactive broadband policy in place in South Africa?

SS: Yes, I think there is a strong desire on the part of the new government to deliver effective services where the previous one may have failed. Affordable access is a failure of note in South Africa. I think there is an appetite for change within government, within the
regulator, and of course within the public at large.

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SANBF STATEMENT

Following the meeting with the Department of Communications, and the release of the government’s draft broadband policy, the SANBF released the following statement:

“We’ve done an initial assessment of the draft National Broadband Policy and, unfortunately, believe that while it has value, it is not a strong enough document – it is a rather general and vague piece of work that does not sufficiently reflect the considerable work available on broadband policy internationally. Consequently we feel that the point needs to be made to government that they should consult stakeholders directly in the manner that the United States Federal Communications Commission is currently doing: see http://www.broadband.gov/

We need a national broadband policy that will inspire a vision of the impact of pervasive, affordable broadband for all South Africans. The current draft policy doesn’t represent the broad appetite for real change in broadband access that we know exists. Ultimately we will get policy we deserve. It is up to us to make sure that South Africa’s national broadband policy is something we can all be proud of, something we’d like to live up to.

Please comment constructively on the draft policy at http://bit.ly/SA-broadband-policy.”

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Background to the issue:

Thousands of South Africans sign up to campaign for cheaper broadband
www.apc.org/en/news/thousands-south-africans-sign-campaign-cheaper-bro

*The BroadBand4Africa coalition explains what’s behind the South
African campaign*
www.apc.org/en/news/broadband4africa-coalition-explains-what-s-behind-

Key links:

Broadband4Africa
www.broadband4africa.org.za

APC
www.apc.org

SANGONeT
www.ngopulse.org

South Africa Connect
www.southafricaconnect.org.za

Shuttleworth Foundation
www.shuttleworthfoundation.org

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CHAKULA is a newsletter produced by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC). It aims to mobilise African civil society around ICT policy for sustainable development and social justice issues.

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