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balancingact-africa
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« on: January 08 2007 »

The Ugandan government is planning to build a national backbone throughout the country after securing a $106 million loan from the Exim bank of China but this has not gone down well with the two national operators MTN and UTL. Balancing Act’s Uganda correspondent Esther Nakkazi interviewed the Chief Executive Officer MTN Uganda Noel Meier by email about it and below are excerpts:

Q: What have you covered so far in terms of backbone coverage?

By the end of next year MTN, will complete the remaining fibre link to the Kenyan border – we currently have fibre till Bugiri. This will link up with the Telkom Kenya fibre that will eventually run from Malaba to Nairobi to Mombasa and form part of the East African Backhaul System (EABs). EABS is a joint venture project among operators from Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.

This Backhaul system will link all the five East African Community countries to the EASSy Submarine cable to be laid along the Eastern African seaboard. MTN and 30 other operators in Eastern and Southern Africa are involved with this latter project.

To the West, we are in discussion with UTL to share capacity on our fibre links and thus avoid duplication of infrastructure roll-out. MTN already has fibre up to Mbarara and it has been mooted that UTL complete the fibre route to Rwanda from Mbarara to Katuna, linking up with a fibre to be installed by MTN Rwanda to the Rwandan border. This will link via the Rwanda operator’s fibre into Burundi and Tanzania and in turn to the second EASSy landing point at Dar-es-Salaam.

Further to this and as part of our quality assurance objectives, MTN is to ensure that our national backbone is provided with full resilience by completing what we call ‘self healing’ rings around the country. These rings will ensure that should a link be interrupted, transmission can be restored by routing network traffic ‘the other way’; around the ring.

This will lead to significant increases in network availability in especially rural areas where links are prone to interruptions ranging from power issues, theft, vandalism and damage to fibre caused by activities of contractors etc…

We have therefore put in place a backbone that is based on different technologies, but should by the end of next year be fully optic-fibre based running from border to border. Indeed, we intend by the end of next year to have not only a national backbone, but a regional East African link (EABs) that will deliver not only regional traffic, but together with EASSy, international traffic that is of high quality and affordable.

Q: Are you comfortable with the new regime that is allowing new players to come in and develop infrastructure? (UCC has changed the licensing regime to cater for services and infrastructure development separately which was not the case when you came into the market)

We have no problem with increased liberalisation. Our concern is that the necessary changes to the existing laws, regulations and licenses have not been made. In January 2005, new policy proposals were published by UCC after due consultation with all stakeholders.

We were satisfied with the process that led to these new policy proposals as well as the outcomes, including a well laid out road map that contained conditions precedent to opening up the market and timelines for the repeal of existing laws and licenses. This road map has not been followed. We believe this absence of due process could undermine the enabling regulatory environment that Uganda has been reputed for. Our desire is to see that chaos is avoided. Clear and transparent guidelines and laws need to be put in place.

Q: I understand the two national operators including MTN have protested to government which is planning to build a national backbone. Apparently MTN wants the government to buy their fibre cables that have been laid. Is this so?

MTN would not be in a position to request government to buy our fibre. We would of course be happy to share our fibre with any national or even regional initiative as is happening with EABs and our proposal to swap (rather than duplicate fibre) with UTL bears testimony to our thinking. We have also committed ourselves to hand over 2 fibres (of the 24 available fibres) to the EABs initiative.

What we have advised is a rationalisation of these fibre resources to deliver economic efficiency for the country. Sharing resources in a network industry like telecommunications lowers costs for the operators, the resellers and the end users.

Secondly we have not been formally informed about this national backbone plan. We believe it would be in the interest of the industry for government to advise the Operators, as key stakeholders in the Telecommunications industry, of their plans. We believe we could offer valuable input. It is unfortunate that we have not been able to continue open dialogue on such crucial matters, as was the case in the past.

We have merely advised, through different fora, that such a route (of the proposed backbone) should avoid duplication of existing backbones. MTN were most surprised to hear that Government has now decided that it needs to build its own backbone after repeatedly pressing the Operators to make use of infrastructure sharing arrangements, a philosophy we have adopted accordingly amongst ourselves.

Q: If government developed a national backbone and looped it on to your existing cable would there be a problem?

None whatsoever, as long as clear guidelines are in place and commercial, cost-based, reciprocal compensation is agreed for all parties involved. What should be avoided is a situation where the national backbone becomes idle or is inefficiently run and it becomes a burden on the tax payer.

We contribute 1% of our gross revenues to the Rural Communications Development Fund (RCDF) for example. We should avoid a situation where these funds are diverted to the maintenance of an idle “national” backbone, that duplicates existing infrastructure, rather than on stimulating demand and supply of ICT services in rural areas.

Q: What were MTN’s license obligations as a national operator concerning the development of infrastructure for the national backbone?

At the time MTN Uganda was licensed as a Second National Operator (SNO), there were a number of obligations attached to that license. These obligations as an example included installing 89,000 lines in five years, providing payphones at county headquarters, and providing telecommunication services while achieving certain quality benchmarks.

However, there was never a specific requirement for building of a national backbone. The provision of a transmission network (otherwise called a backbone) was nevertheless always going to be a necessary element in MTN Uganda’s infrastructure rollout.

Q: Have they been fulfilled?

All the license obligations have been fulfilled, indeed exceeded many times over. In putting together a telecommunications network to deliver not only the license obligations, but also meet the demands of a market which far exceeded license obligations and indeed drove subsequent network expansion, a comprehensive national backbone had to be built. This backbone comprises of 2 technologies:
· Fibre optic in mainly Kampala and along the main transmission routes going initially East and West, and now also North,
· Microwave for smaller backbone links into the more rural areas feeding off the ‘main’ fibre optic routes.

see also newsfeed from balancingact-africa on this website
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mulonga
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« Reply #1 on: January 15 2007 »

EAST AFRICAN COMMUNITY IS MOVING TOWARDS REGIONAL E-GOVERNMENT

The East African Community (EAC) is in the process developing and having a harmonised e-government strategy. This will act as an add-on onto the other objectives of the sub-regional grouping which include a common Customs Union, Common Market as well as Monetary Union.

During a recent workshop held in Nairobi for Kenya's MPs with the theme "Empowering Parliamentarians for Building an Inclusive Information Society", Andrew Gakiria, a member of the EAC's regional working group on e-government (EAC/ IWG) said that the implementation of the regional Customs Union will to a greater extent need the use of ICT in government processes, both national and cross-border.

The protocol on the establishment of the East African Customs Union was signed on March 2 2004. In his presentation to participants at the two-day workshop, Gakiria said: "It is in this regard EAC has recognised the need to develop a harmonised and co-ordinated sub-regional e-government framework."

The idea of a regional e-government strategy was mooted during an earlier workshop held in Tanzania in 2004 by Africa IT Exhibitions and Conferences (Aitec) with support from the EAC, and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca).

The Tanzania workshop was aimed at examining, consolidating and sharing views as well as agreeing on strategic priorities for e-government. The major issues discussed at the meeting were the strategic objectives and goals that the EAC as a region wants to achieve, the financial, technical and human resources dedicated to achieving the e-government goals as well as the political will and availability of national and regional champions to lobby and lead the implementation of the process.

At the end of the workshop, participants agreed on the need to establish a regional Working Group on e-government (EAC/ IWG), and engage a consultant to develop a draft Regional e-Government Strategy for East Africa. They also resolved to develop a start up work plan whose main action points include the operationalisation of the Regional e-Government Working Group (IWG), development of the Regional e-Government Strategy for East Africa and mobilisation of technical assistance.

Gakiria said that a study commissioned by the EAC/IWG came up with several issues that needed to be addressed as well as recommendations. These included the creation of an enabling legal and regulatory environment which the study report noted was "a critical enabling factor for effective implementation of e-government strategies at national and regional levels."

The report also said that "operational efficiency of any e-government strategy will need a strong back-up support of necessary legislation on data security, network security, cyber crime, information systems and electronic transactions."

The study report concluded that "to deliver e-government, leadership and long-term commitment are sought from policy makers at all levels, senior managers in the public service, private sector and the civil society."

According to Gakiria, upon the establishment of such structures, the region would move towards the realisation of such ICT-enabled applications like e-Customs, e-Parliament, e-Commerce, e-Health, e-Procurement as well as on the delivery of information on meteorology.

(SOURCE: The East African Standard / balancinact-africa)
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