21.02.2006 General News

Spio: Pan-African regulator could reduce costs for Africa

21.02.2006 LISTEN

Accra, Feb. 21, GNA - A Pan-African ICT regulatory agency that could deal specifically with ICT issues that with continental bearing, such as satellite communications, could help reduce the costs of communications to African governments, businesses and individuals. Such a continental body would need the full blessing of the African Union, the African Telecommunications Union and the NEPAD E-Africa Commission, which are currently the major players on the African continental ICT scene, and should be an independent agency that would draw its key strengths from Africa's regulatory authorities and agencies.

Dr Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, CEO of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO), said this when he opened SATCOM 2006 in Johannesburg, South Africa today.

A statement issued in Accra by the CTO said Dr Spio-Garbrah noted that his proposal was not new and was merely a repetition of a similar recommendation he made at another conference in Johannesburg in 1998 when he was then Ghana's Minister of Communications. In his speech before African and foreign satellite and telecom operators, manufacturers, policy makers and regulators, the CTO head noted that satellite communications was a critical element of Africa's communications infrastructure mix, alongside mobile, wireless, copper and fibre.

He said satellite industry officials often saw themselves as in competition with these other ICT platforms when they should preferably see themselves as a complementary means of bringing affordable and efficient communications to a continent in dire need of this for its development, especially to meet the Millennium Development Goals. He argued that with the completion of the second-phase of the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis and the endorsement of Commonwealth Heads of State of a Malta Declaration on the Digital Divide and a Commonwealth Action Programme for the Digital Divide, most African countries now sought the best and cheapest means of effective communication.

For many landlocked African countries, and for those with large land masses and sparse far-flung populations, satellite communications remained the most viable means of bringing news, information, education, entertainment and knowledge to rural people. Dr Spio-Garbrah noted that, so far, especially through VSAT, many satellite providers had made a good living by attending to the specialised needs of the financial services, oil and gas, mining and military and defence establishments, as well as to the maritime sector through Inmarsat.

However, recent fall-outs from the privatisation of Inmarsat and Intelsat had raised serious questions amongst African countries regarding the Lifeline Connectivity Obligations of these once inter-governmental organisations and the relatively small and weak regulatory bodies-ITSO and IMSO-that were spawned by their privatisation.

According to Dr Spio-Garbrah, it was particularly important therefore that the satellite industry found ways to collaborate and partner with the mobile sector. "Except for a very few specialised industries in very remote areas that are not connected by mobile telephony, a one thousand dollar satellite mobile handset cannot easily compete with the sub-thirty dollar mobile handsets that are on the horizon for the average user", he said.

Satellite operators still prefer average revenues per users (ARPUs) per month in the thousands of dollars while the mobile sector has proven that it is possible to make money on less than ten dollars of ARPU. 21 Feb. 06

ModernGhana Links