Cross-border connectivity study calls for more incentives to operators
Accra, June 21, GNA - A World Bank (WB) study to facilitate the process of harmonising cross-border connectivity in the West Africa Sub-Region has called for more incentives to private sector operators to encourage them in addressing regional and intra-country links in telecommunications. It also advocated for greater use of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) and SAT3 particularly in larger markets in order to facilitate the exchange of traffic.
The SAT 3 communications facility has been built under the sea and is currently located in Portugal. Presenting the study on Tuesday in Accra, Mr Russell Southwood of the ICT Department of the WB, said currently there was a low level of cooperation among potential infrastructure providers in the region, even though infrastructure had been noted to be very crucial. He said there was the need for each country to have competitive intra-country links and more competitive regional infrastructure as well as encourage open and transparent access to new and existing regional infrastructure.
Mr Southwood, who presented the report at a day's workshop with players in the telecom sector, said currently Ghana's backhaul infrastructure was inadequate but noted that the use of SAT3 had sufficient capacity with links. He said cross-border links would make it easier for incumbents to send traffic outside the region, give cheaper prices because of small volume and payment issues. "The private sector does not see the virtue of having these links given the current policy and regulatory difficulties," he said.
Giving the state of the connectivity issues in the region, Mr Bjorn Sodrberg who co-presented the study, said about 90 per cent of telecom services in West Africa offered post-paid roaming. He said there was a high intra-regional tariff, and therefore most nationals found it cheaper to use local SIM cards adding that the main problem was how to top up when abroad.
Mr Soderberg said the study observed that Francophone countries were able to call more frequently among themselves than others saying, "eight Francophone nations had 54 per cent of bilateral traffic but only 34 per cent in the other population".
Mr Albert Kan-Dapaah, Minister of Communication, said it was a challenge for members of the ECOWAS to find out how they could integrate their networks such that when citizens travelled across borders they would not have to change their Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards. He said such harmonisation was crucial and would be beneficial to all in the Sub-Region. He added that institutions such as West African Telecom Regulators Assembly (WATRA), ECOWAS Ministers of ICT and the NEPAD Framework for Infrastructure Development had affirmed the region's enormous potential to accelerate integration through communication development. "It is, therefore, our expectation that the existing political will and favourable enabling environment would provide the harmonised policies and regulations that would spur the private sector to take advantage and expand their investments across the Sub-Region," Mr Dapaah said.
Major John R. Tandoh (rtd), Acting Director General of the National Communication Authority (NCA), announced that WATRA would meet in September in Accra to adopt a resolution on the harmonisation, regulation and interconnectivity that would bind all member countries. He said such a resolution would come out with rules and regulations that would guide member countries to develop their national regulatory framework.