2013q4-editorials CATCO logoAfrican Telecommunication Regulators and other key industry stakeholders, among them telecommunication consumers, legislators, operators, for the first time met in Lagos, Nigeria on October 17-18 2013 to discuss ways of “Harnessing Regulatory Policies to Protect Telecom Consumers in Africa;” being the Theme of the Conference.

The Conference was held under the auspices of the Consumer Affairs Bureau of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) which hosted it.

It drew participants from over 15 African countries including Angola, Niger, Uganda, Sudan, Liberia, Malawi, Rwanda, Ghana, South Africa, Cameroun, Benin Republic and Nigeria, the host country, and African Telecommunications Union who provided varying and fresh perspectives to issues affecting telecommunication service delivery to consumers across Africa.

The conference noted that:

  • Deregulation of the telecoms industry has dismantled the monopoly structure and its attendant bottlenecks associated with customers’ frustrations and enhanced competitiveness among operators thus increasing value propositions for the customers.
  • Despite the laudable achievements in the telecoms industry across Africa, the challenges faced by consumers include Quality of Service (QoS), billing, adequate education on services, consumer and issues pertaining to seeking redress
  • The scope and complexity of telecom regulatory activities on the continent has not only shifted from licensing to consumer obligations, it has also increased in dimension and quantum.
  • Convergence and emerging technologies have placed new challenges before African regulators, made regulation more complex and has brought about the need for converged regulation
  • Multiple- taxations and multiple-regulations are major challenges in most African countries as they inhibit both operators ability to meet service obligations and full experience of consumers through service affordability and availability
  • In the telecoms space everyone is a stakeholder and the impact of the transformation in the industry has rubbed off in every sphere of lives of the people and also led to increased teledensity such that un-served and underserved areas in the continent are increasingly experiencing service provisioning.
  • The trajectory for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the telecoms industry is upwards, leading to exponential economic growth which has been manifested in direct and indirect jobs creation across the continent.
  • Countries on the continent have experienced general and peculiar challenges based on the culture, values, market principles, business model as well as laws and regulations specific to each regulatory jurisdiction.
  • There is need for a sustainable and veritable platform for regulators on the continent to engage in peer review mechanism that will give them ample opportunity to critically focus on the consumer interests in the different climes.
  • In order to deepen telecommunications services, regulators need to be responsive to the needs of the telecoms environment by being proactive. A number of regulatory initiatives such as the ones undertaken by the Nigerian regulators are germane including:
    1. The need for collaboration among other regulatory bodies in order to harmonise the existing policies in such a way that consumer interest is ultimately protected from multi taxation and multi-regulations.
    2. A strong need to establish compliant resolution mechanism that can effectively address challenges between the service providers and consumers as well as issues arising between operators that could impact on the quality of service delivery to the consumers.
  • Consumer is always King and pivotal to the growth of the telecoms industry, as such must be protected
  • With the frequent changes in the technology space and the need for the stakeholders to catch up with the evolving trends in the technology space, there is strong emphasis on regulators to focus on trainings and developmental plans
  • The regulatory issues concerning land locked states should be given urgent review in order to make such states benefit from the experiences of other African countries.
  • Despite the glut of undersea cable into some African nations, only single points of landing have been prevalent in most countries. There is a need for landing points to be diversified to other states for redundancy sake.
  • African regulators should come up with robust broadband model for national and regional strategies that would ensure strategic deployment and collaboration across the regions
  • Stakeholders across Africa need to work assiduously in collaboration to consummate on roaming agreements that will facilitate lower costs of service delivery to the people on the continent.
  • African regulators are encouraged to come together under a common platform to fine tune the standards, processes and procedures for dealing with regulatory issues on the continent
  • African Telecommunications Union should take over the conference and make it a fully continental affair, thereby rotating it among African countries, based on request by interested countries to host.
  • Universal Service Provision Funds (USPFs) play key roles in driving access to the underserved and the un-served.
  • There is need for comprehensive legislations to cater for the needs of physically challenged and people with special needs as equal stakeholders and consumers of telecom services on the continent
  • The Nigerian regulator, NCC, was commended for its exemplary role in telecommunication regulation in Africa
  • The near death of CDMA operation in some African countries is due to multiple regulation and taxation

The Delegates thus resolved:

  • To advocate for service neutral licensing that will enable an operator provide telephony, Internet and broadcast services on a single license in the converged ecosystem.
  • That telecoms infrastructure should be declared as critical national infrastructure and calls on legislators to pass enabling laws.
  • To canvass for a single regional license that will enable an operator in a particular country to operate in any other country within a region once it has a valid operating license from one of the countries in the region.
  • To push for equitable access to undersea cable by nations in the continent, particularly the land locked nations on the continent who by reasons of geographical location do not have direct access to the undersea cables
  • To encourage regional bodies including national and regional regulators, ATU, African Union Commission, Regional Economic Communities, States Policy Makers to work together to achieve harmonised regulatory document,
  • To continuously collaborate to ensure that regulators give priority to protecting consumers of ICT services; and to work with the ATU so as to provide the framework for regulators and all other stakeholders to advance consumers’ interest
  • That the first Conference of African Telecom Regulators is one good example of the collective efforts by Africans to establish unity, solidarity, collective self-reliance amongst African countries in building on the principle of pan-Africanism within the ICT space for Consumers
  • That effective regulatory framework must have the following key features i.e. independent power of the regulatory authority, decision and rule-making power, accountability, consumer protection, dispute resolution and enforcement powers.
  • That International and Regional Mobile Roaming Services can be best resolved through transnational cooperation between African governments and providers through appropriate bilateral, regional and/or international agreements.
  • To ensure that regulators ceaselessly motivate, sustain and improve competition within their jurisdictions using tools such as MNP and Determination of Dominance in the market-space.
  • That spectrum is universally recognised as a scarce resource and it is evidently being underutilised on the continent, and since spectrum is also borderless, therefore African countries must co-operate in this area to ensure that the dividends of the digital age is available to citizens
  • To encourage balanced regulation in order for citizens to enjoy the benefits of the New Media, and authorities should adopt suitable regulatory tools in response to new trends in the industry and the growing need for consumer protection.
  • As a result of the increasing challenges of cyber security and e-commerce, authorities must come up with regulation that must protect operator systems and information from cyber-attacks and cybercrimes.
  • To enjoin African states to enact legislation to protect minors and other vulnerable people within the society from cybercrimes, pornography and other illicit activities perpetuated over the internet.
  • That regional commitment is critical to liberalization and harmonization of regulatory frameworks; and collaboration across the region will also ensure uniformity of standards which will reduce transaction costs, enhance demand and competition.
  • That technology cannot be regulated, rather regulators should find efficient ways of regulating the services being proferred by technology.
  • The 2nd Conference of African Telecom Regulators on Consumer Affairs will be announced and made known to delegates later.