A new road has just been completed, just as we are basking in the feat and proud of having access to a pothole free stretch, the following morning we are greeted by a team of workers chopping away the tarmac to lay a fibre optic cable across the road. Two months later, another team mutilates the same road in a bid to lay fibre optic cable for another company. Familiar?
I subscribed for a line with Telco A and have used it for the past 15 years. Due to the ever degrading service, I would like to shift to Telco B but do not want to lose my number since it has been widely shared with my business contacts. This forces me to get a second number with Telco B and still bear the burden of retaining the old number too. Familiar?
Directing people is such a nightmare in Uganda. If I have to direct you, landmarks like ffene trees, rolex stalls, retail shops, black gate are the ones that are most suitable to enable someone locate my home as elaborated in this article.
These are just a few of the challenges we grapple with in this country that require simple policy formulation coupled by implementation enforcement. It is therefore with so much joy that I welcomed the recent approval of the National Broadband Policy by the cabinet on the 17th of September 2018.
This policy among others plans to address the following issues;
Integrate Broadband Infrastructure in the planning and development of physical Infrastructure such as roads, railways, energy and oil pipelines. With the vast investment being undertaken in infrastructure, it is only prudent that broadband spread be considered side by side. The additional cost of laying a fibre optic cable alongside the new SGR railway or Oil pipeline heading to the coast is very minimal when compared to the overall project total cost. Besides, it also opens up numerous redundancy options that can be exploited.
Regulate, coordinate and harmonize the development, deployment and sharing of all Broadband Infrastructure (both private and public) among all stakeholders. Different communication market players have been setting up independent infrastructure even in areas where sharing is feasible. Walk along most of the roads in the central business district of Kampala and you’re greeted with fibre installations for all the Telcos laid separately but serving the same purpose in the same area. As for masts, a single roof top may have two telecoms with installed masts. All this is unnecessary duplicity of infrastructure that drives up the cost of service provision to the consumer. This policy expects to compel the various players to share infrastructure.
Promote and implement the national postcode and addressing system, towards last mile delivery of services to facilitate e-commerce. A post code and addressing system is very crucial for any community that permanently settles in any location. This is the only way one can trace their way around with ease, visitor or not. With the advent of e-commerce, if orders are to be delivered seamlessly, well addressed homes and offices that are easily traceable shall boost the business. On the security front, the police should find it easy to trace areas that are having trouble in case of any robberies.
Businesses can better organise their sales and marketing efforts like targeted promotions as well as where to locate product depots for easy supply.
Improvement in public services. There are many cases where Fire Brigades and Ambulances have got lost and failed to reach their intended destination as a result of lack of proper addressing systems.
Ensure all government sectors deliver their services online for efficient and sustainable service delivery. Have you tried applying for a National ID or seeking a replacement? The attachment towards a manual delivery of services leaves many bewildered in this age of hi-tech. You are made to manually fill in forms, walk to a bank, make payments, photocopy documents and then wait for months before receiving the document. Surely, why should all these man hours be wasted when solutions already exist that could make the citizen’s experience more comfortable?
Promote open source, and government ownership of the source code for all government information systems, software and e-solutions. This will ensure sustainability and promote innovation. Open Source refers to something that people can modify and share because its design is publicly accessible. For the Government of Uganda to come out and recognise this need is a very big achievement. It implies that for software and hardware that the Government procures, its openness shall be a big issue of concern.
Local technologists should be excited about this as it opens doors for them to develop integrated solutions that can tap into Government systems.
Spectrum management – The spectrum being a scarce and finite government resource, needs to be managed and utilised efficiently, optimally and rationally. These resources should not be owned by the private telecom service providers. Spectrum in this case relates to the radio frequencies allocated to the mobile industry and other sectors for communication over the airwaves (GSMA Definition).
In the past, the Uganda Communication Commission would pre-allocate spectrum to the different telecoms and it was upto them to use as they wished. Whenever they felt they needed more, they always approached UCC. However, the loophole here was the hoarding that begun taking place. A telecom would have X amount of spectrum while in reality utilising only half of that capacity. They would then limit the spectrum that late entrants would have access to. Government is now saying that it shall have the right to assign and re-assign spectrum at will.
National roaming – Roaming refers to the ability of a customer to automatically make and receive voice calls, send and receive data, or access other services, even when travelling outside the geographical coverage area of his service provider, by means of using the service of the other service provider’s network. Whenever one travels from Uganda to Kenya, if you are an MTN customer, you automatically receive services from Safaricom. However, the most surprising thing that we seem to have considered normal is the failure to roam within the country. Take the case of an Africell user heading to Adjumani only to find no network there. Why shouldn’t they be able to roam onto MTN which might be having a service there?
The policy aims to address this matter too in order to enable universal services access.
Number Portability. This refers to the ability for one to retain their phone number even when they transfer their choice of services from one telecom company to another. Take the example of a number 0771-123456, an MTN number but in case the owner wanted to change to Airtel, they would still retain the same number but enjoy the latter’s services. This will effectively reduce the current semblance of imprisonment by most customers as well as the discomfort of having to juggle multiple mobile numbers.
Stock Exchange Listing. This is undoubtedly one of the best things to me mooted by this policy. All Telecoms are required to go public and list on the Stock Exchange. Considering how attractive the pie has been and the allegations of capital flight levelled by the government against the telecoms companies, this is a win-win. While the policy is not specific to what tune shares must be availed to the public, my proposal is that at least 40% of the shares should be dispensed. The time is now for Ugandans to reap from a sector where they spend a lot of their money.
These are just a few of the proposals in the policy that I felt worth sharing. On the whole however, it was a well thought out document and the next challenge is to see to it that implementation occurs.
James Wire is a Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda
Follow @wirejames on Twitter.
Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com