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Influencing ICT policy and regulations

The discussion in this section has two parts:

  • Infrastructure, policy and regulation - Overview of the policy and regulations governing the deployment of connectivity, particularly WiFi.
  • Influencing telecommunications policy - Strategies used by FMFI partners to attempt to liberalise the regulatory environment to secure viable ICT options for under-serviced areas.

Infrastructure, policy and regulation

A key objective of the FMFI is to use evidence-based research results to influence and inform policy in the telecommunications domain. In order to do this, it was necessary to understand the regulatory framework in each country in order to know what the project was trying to influence. In light of the limited ICT coverage in rural Africa, rollout of WiFi networks provides great potential to stimulate extended ICT access. This is due to the relatively low costs of WiFi once the backbone connectivity is in place, which enables community-based, or bottom up, deployment. All the FMFI partners involved in direct implementation are using some form of WiFi. The current regulatory framework in Southern Africa poses significant challenges to deployment of WiFi community networks. The focus in this discussion therefore is on the WiFi regulations in the various countries and how these impact on service delivery, particularly in the rural areas targeted in the FMFI project. A brief summary of the regulatory environment in each country is given below (1).

Angolan regulatory environment

Two Ministries are involved in telecommunications; the Ministry of Telecommunication and Post and the Ministry of Science and Technology. Angola has one fixed line operator which is 100% government owned, and two cellular operators. The main focus is on provincial capitals and extending coverage to some municipalities. The National IT Commission (CNTI) follows trends in the industry and formulated a strategic plan under the banner of: “Angola – An Emerging Digital Player”. The Government of Angola also created a National Commission for Information Technology by Decree no. 6/2002 of 4 April 2002. This Commission has elaborated a plan known as "Strategy for the Development of Information Technology 2000-2010." The Institut Angolias des Communications (INACOM) regulates the telecommunications sector. Currently, there is no formally constituted fund for universal access.

The Angolan government’s strategy is to develop the communication network first - financed by government through Angola Telecom. This will create a national network to cover the whole country by making use of a fibre optic backbone. There is a submarine fibre cable linking Luanda to Lobito, Benguela and Namibe. However, there are problems with inland links requiring funding from government to the tune of $400million.

The Angolan regulatory emphasis is on regulating the service, not on regulating the technology. When a service is installed in a rural area, they want to know who it belongs to, what they are going to do and how they are going to do it. All services must be licensed or registered. With regard to VSAT and WiFi solutions, communications in the 2.4 GHz band are licence free but it is compulsory for the service provider to register their activities with the regulator.

In education and health applications there are no licence requirements for use of WiFi within a building but a licence is required once outside the building. In addition, government recognised that there are no public networks available in a number of areas and allowed the licensing of WiFi to government departments. This assisted the Department of Health in controlling the Marburg virus through the use of ICT’s.

Some parameters for equipment need to be checked including power output and coverage. Government requires strict control over coverage to prevent signal interference and has had problematic experiences with overseas companies who installed powerful equipment and did not inform the regulator. The regulator remarked about a foreign organisation: “They just installed and started working, ignoring regulations and causing interference”. Some companies wanted to go above 2.4 GHz, but the regulator stopped them, giving them the option to continue with 2.4 GHz or comply with regulator’s licence requirements.

Government’s response to the harmonising of regulations recognises that Angola does not have 100% compliance with CRASA and that countries need different approaches. There is no common perspective and some countries are more advanced than others. Angola has a national plan for frequencies and service providers have to conform to the plan.

As far as liberalising the telecommunications sector and opening up competition, there are plans to expand to four cellular companies and a second fixed line operator. Angola believes that eventually they would need five fixed line operators at national level for voice, internet, data, other applications and the government recognises the need to create incentives for investment and is considering tax exemption especially in neglected areas. However, there is no real competition in Angola yet. Possibly as a result of this, Angolan telecommunications costs are the highest in SADC, but the environment is different. The capital costs for telecommunications equipment are high, and telecoms providers have to import everything and also have to pay taxes on the imports.

South Africa Regulatory Environment

Wireless spread spectrum Local Area Networks (LAN's) used for short distances on single sites e.g. in an office complex in the 2.4-2.5 GHz (ISM) band (2) does not require licence. South African WiFi providers need to adhere to the following requirements if they want to be licence exempt:

  1. the network needs to be deployed on a single site/ same premises (for example a business complex) ;
  2. signals may only traverse short distances and the maximum radiated power allowed is 100 milliWatts;
  3. only type approved equipment may be used;
  4. no interference to users of other ISM equipment or other frequency bands may be caused; and (5) the network must be confined to computer systems of the same user.

While the installation of WiFi access points at homes or businesses typically will be licence exempt, larger community based WiFi networks interconnecting different buildings at different properties, providing various telecommunications services need a licence according to these rules. First, community networks cross single property boundaries, and second, in order to make signals traverse longer distances, power needs to be boosted. This means the 100 milliWatt maximum power requirement is often exceeded.

Within the South African licence structure, two types of licence are relevant for longer term deployment: Private Telecommunications Network (PTN) licence and/or a Value-Added Network Service (VANS) licence. A test licence may be obtained for short period of time to, as the name indicates, test a network. Hence, the latter type may be used for research purposes or for testing purposes before commercial rollout.

A PTN licence is authorized “to utilise the private telecommunication network, to provide any and all types of telecommunication services principally and integrally related to the operations of its business”. This constitutes an organization’s deployment of a local network on its premises providing any type of telecommunications services. Once a network becomes connected to the larger national telecommunications network (infrastructure delivered by any other telecommunications operator) through the provision of value added services, a VANS licence is needed. A VANS is, according to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, as amended by section 1(p) of Act 64 of 2001, defined as “a telecommunication service provided by a person over a telecommunication facility, which facility has been obtained by that person in accordance with the provisions of section 40(2) of the Act, to one or more customers of that person concurrently, during which value is added for the benefit of the customers, which may consist of—

  1. any kind of technological intervention that would act on the content, format or protocol or similar aspects of the signals transmitted or received by the customer in order to provide those customers with additional, different or restructured information;
  2. the provision of authorised access to, and interaction with, processes for storing and retrieval of text and data;
  3. managed data network services”.

In addition, Section 40(2) of the Telecommunications Act as substituted by section 15(a) of Act 64 of 2001 further defines VANS among others to provide “electronic data interchange, electronic mail, protocol conversion, access to a database or a managed data network service”.

This means that in the case of a WiFi community network where no direct interconnection to the (inter-)national telecommunications network is provided (infrastructure delivered by any other telecommunications operator), a PTN licence would be needed, whereas the delivery of value added services demands a VANS licence. Once Value Added Network Services are delivered, or once a network crosses the boundaries of the premises, another issue comes to the fore which is that of the use or deployment of facilities. Section 40(2) of the Telecommunications Act as substituted by section 15(a) of Act 64 of 2001 dictates that after 7 May 2002 telecommunications facilities must be used that are provided by Telkom or the Second National Operator (SNO) until a date is fixed by the Minister by notice in the Gazette, setting out new rules. To this extent, in Notice 1924 of 2004 in the Gazette of 3 September 2004 Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri states the following regarding self-provision of VAN's: “In terms of section 40(2) of the Act, 1 February 2005 shall be the date from when a person who provides a value added network service shall be entitled to cede or assign the right to use, or to sublet or part with control or otherwise dispose of the telecommunications facilities used for the provision of the value added network service” .

Thus, the Minister gave way for VANS to self-provision infrastructure, use facilities from any market player, as well as being allowed to resell their own infrastructure to others. However, about 24 hours before the changes would take effect, Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri sent out a press statement, saying that it was never her intention to allow VANS to provide their own facilities. While this statement is not legal since it was not published in the Government Gazette, it has never been officially challenged. Self provision now constitutes a grey area as regulation cannot contain a statement that self provision is allowed, since the Minister has to sign off on regulation. However, nowhere is it stated otherwise that it is not allowed. They may therefore conclude that self provision is informally allowed.

Research organizations and private companies before commercial rollout are entitled to get a test licence for a relatively short period of time as stated previously. After expiration, another type of licence as described above is required.

On April 11, 2006 President Mbeki signed the new Electronic Communications Act, which largely repeals the old Telecommunications Act of 1996, or the Act as amended in 2001. Enactment of this Act means full restructuring of the current licence regime. It is not yet in effect, but is supposed to be completed within two years. Whereas in the old licence regime frequency spectrum, infrastructure and service provision were all dealt with in one single licence, in the new licence regime there will be separate licence for network, frequency, broadcasting, and services provision. In addition, all licence will be categorized as either individual or class licence, meaning respectively providing national or regional ‘coverage’. In addition, there will be licence exempt categories.

It is thus slightly unclear what type of licence a WiFi community network operator would need. Depending on the specifics of the network, class licence for both infrastructure and services might be needed (within the Electronic Communications Act called “Electronic Communications Networks Services or Electronic Communications Services” respectively). As procedures for obtaining such licence still need to be implemented, the ease and speed of granting new licence is a moot issue. However, the regulator seemingly will obtain more freedom to grant licence, as these licences do not need to be signed off by the Minister anymore. While some positive changes may arise, the new Act does not specify any changes in rules relating to power levels and crossing boundaries of property. Therefore, the extent of changes of the Electronic Communications Act cannot yet be fully assessed.

Self provision has been an issue for long, but it is likely that with the Electronic Communications Act (ECA), self provision will be allowed. The regulatory framework surrounding WiFi deployment nevertheless remains complicated, and due to Ongoing changes of staff at the regulator, applications for licences tend to take a long time.

The interim strategy employed to increase affordable universal access is that of granting Under-serviced Area Licence (USAL’s). The licence is for Small Medium Enterprises (SMME's) that provide telecommunication services in areas designated as under-serviced.

Mozambique Regulatory Environment

A licence is required in order to provide a service or network. There are two types of regulatory requirements: licence and registration.

  • A licence is needed for voice and data services if it is commercial which applies to all applications where a charge is involved. For licence one pays an annual fee, as well as a universal service fee and a frequency fee.
  • Registration is for ISP’s who want to provide connectivity for a social (non- commercial) purpose.

There appears to be no clear-cut regulation in place with respect to the use of WiFi, so there are no particular requirements on power output for WiFi systems. However, there is a clear distinction between “social” vs. commercial provision in the use of WiFi. There is the possibility of a licence exemption for “social” purposes and a letter to the regulator is needed. However, once there is a commercial activity then one needs a licence. It is seemingly easy to gain access to the regulator and easy to find out about the regulator’s requirements.

There does not seem to be a lot of focus on WiFi regulation in general in Mozambique and the main points are:

  • There is some latitude in the use of WiFi for social applications such as health and education
  • Cellular providers do not seem to go beyond regular GSM and broadband GSM through GPRS, 3G and EDGE is still in its infancy.
  • Very few ISP’s offer WiFi connectivity

NGO’s and other entities who want access to the network in the FMFI projects for a fee to share the interconnection cost of the leased line provider TDM, categorises the access as a commercial use. In these situations project partners need to make a ‘deal’ with TDM, to be able to on-sell WiFi connectivity derived from their access to the TDM leased line.

Namibian regulatory environment

The regulator in Namibia is the Namibia Communications Commission which is an independent body responsible for frequency management, the issuing of licences and other regulatory functions and resorts under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The ISM band tends to be licence free worldwide, but in some countries, including Namibia, a licence is required. The strategies to be able to provide WiFi connectivity in Namibia would be to either partner with an existing licence holder, or to apply for a dedicated licence.

Recommendations for WiFi Regulation in the SADC Region

CRASA (Communications Regulatory Association of Southern Africa) has recommended the following with regard to WiFi regulation in the 2004 TRASA Guidelines on Wireless Technologies Policy and Regulation – the primary document covering wireless regulatory recommendations for SADC telecom harmonization purposes:

  • For WLAN the EIRP (Effective Isotropic Radiated Power) level is recommended to be defined as those published for the EU member states in the ETSI standard EN 300 328 V1.4.1 (p. 24).
  • The report states that regulation should also be clear on licence exempt bands and the free use of ISM bands for commercial purposes. A reference is made to the EU that the European Commission recommended member states (in a non-binding manner) to provide licence exempt WLAN access to public electronic communications networks and services in the 2.4 GHz band (p. 25).

With regard to licence in general, TRASA (3) states in its 2004 document on TRASA Guidelines on Wireless Technologies Policy and Regulation that licence is for the ‘sole purposes’ of

  1. protecting public safety and
  2. to manage spectrum so as to prevent harmful interference, as unnecessary licence could create barriers to entry (TRASA, 2004). This recommendation would thus apply to potential licence of WiFi as well.

Additionally, in line with other regional organizations CRASA recommends “transparency, content and technology neutrality, protection of public safety and competition” (TRASA, 2004, p. 40) as necessary principles for regulation of wireless technologies.

Taking into account these three points that either directly or indirectly involve recommendations concerning national WiFi regulatory frameworks, a couple of challenges and issues come to the fore. In particular the CRASA regulatory principles of competitive access and transparency are lacking in various ways by all countries investigated.

At this point, licence fees have not been mentioned by any of the interviewees as being a great constraint to deployment (however, they do not know if there are parties that decided not to provide WiFi because of high fees). However, the transparency of the process seems the major obstacle. Finding out the exact regulatory conditions as well as in one case just finding out whom to speak to at the regulator, indicate limited transparency. Especially given the fact that WiFi, due to the relatively low initial upfront investments, gives promise to ‘bottom-up’ development, i.e. development by small ‘micro-operators’ or small community based organizations. This means regulation should be easy to obtain and understand, as these organizations do not enjoy the support of extensive regulatory affairs departments.

Furthermore, the licence frameworks of WiFi in the four countries of study have essentially increased a barrier to entry and thus may impede competitive access. This again constitutes a direct contradiction to the general guidelines for regulatory principles and licence purposes. While the barriers of entry are likely not so much due to the costs associated with licence fees, barriers to entry have increased due to the lack of transparency, as mentioned above. Regulation is sometimes difficult to unravel (as is the case with South Africa), or sometimes does not exist at all, while and requirements and conditions seem to be made on an ad-hoc basis (e.g. Mozambique). The direct licence purpose of prevention of harmful interference could be valid point, but nevertheless, in all countries interference is an issue (but perhaps mainly in the big cities). This is a technology characteristic, due to WiFi being in the ISM band. Further, lack of resources on the side of the regulators, so as to enforce regulation, means licensing of WiFi at this point does not serve any of these two purposes of licensing in any of the countries investigated.

While further harmonization in the region in terms of the ‘technical’ regulatory framework would be ideal, as it simplifies cross-country collaborative work as well as expansion of organizations wishing to implement WiFi networks across borders, for the time being transparency of, and possibly mere introduction of, WiFi related regulation is of primary importance.

The recommendation by CRASA stating that “administrations should use their websites to post their regulatory framework, upcoming regulations, the list of licence providers, technical standards and even to facilitate on-line filing of radio spectrum, satellite and/or earth station authorizations” is thus one we would like to stress again.

Summary of Regulatory Challenges Confronting FMFI Partners

The above analyses of the regulatory policy in each partner country helps clarify the challenges confronted by FMFI partners. The CRASA recommendations present a clear picture of what policy changes need to be made in order to promote a supportive regulatory environment. The challenge confronting each partner is how to influence policy to bring about change.

The following summarises the policy challenges in each country and suggests strategies that might be adopted in each country to bring about the desired regulatory change.

Angola – AngoNet can build on its good working relationship with the Ministry of Telecommunication and Post and the Ministry of Science and Technology. A precedent has already been set whereby the regulator allowed the licence of WiFi to the Department of Health in controlling the Marburg virus through the use of ICT’s. This should be expanded to all health and education facilities. With respect to the telecentre model developed in Huambo, the regulator should be persuaded that this project is a Universal Access initiative and not be labelled a commercial venture.

South Africa – In order for community owned networks to be legally pursued, the regulator requires such projects to obtain both a PTN as well as a VANS licence. The regulations governing ICT facilities dictates that they must be interconnected with those belonging to Telkom, Sentech, the mobile phone companies or the Second National Operator. Under the Electronic Communications Act, a class licence would be needed by FMFI partners for both infrastructure and services, but the use of WiFi would still be hamstrung by the control on power levels and crossing public boundaries.

Mozambique – The main regulatory distinction is between commercial applications, requiring a licence and social objectives which requires registration. The regulator has stated that the FMFI partners need to apply for licences for the operation of wireless networks and register as an ISP, putting them in the registration category. In all the application situations in Mozambique, cost sharing is a crucial issue and due consideration has to be given to the mechanism how the participants pay for the backbone connectivity. The partners therefore need to negotiate the details of the deployment of their networks with the regulator on the grounds that the use of WiFi and running of the telecentres and schools is in support of Universal Access and not for commercial gain. In the case of health and education, the regulator will consider a licence exemption provided the relevant ministry writes a letter to the regulator.

Namibia - The regulatory environment is rigid in principle, but there seems to be some latitude in accommodating projects with a social objective. Although SchoolNet Namibia had to partner with the principal telecommunications company, they were able to deliver what they needed through the strategic alliance with the licence holder. The partnership extended to negotiations about pricing and negotiating affordable tariffs for social applications.

Influence on policy and regulations

The regulatory environment described above is used as a background for the influence the FMFI partners planned to exert on the regulator.

Engaging with the regulator

Angonet - It was pointed out earlier that the Angolan regulatory emphasis is on regulating the service and these services must be licensed or registered. AngoNet registered their VSAT and WiFi solutions and 2.4 GHz band activities with the regulator to comply with the regulations. They have actively promoted the nature and type of AngoNet service provision in an under-serviced area to achieve social objectives. Their contribution is recognised in the CNTI Information Society Action Plan under the heading of sustainable development under “Initiatives for equipping community centres with technology”. They are building on this relationship in the replication activities in other provinces.

Tsilitwa Telehealth - The Tsilitwa/Sulenkama VSAT connectivity is distributed across a number of stations via WiFi in a deep rural situation for health applications. This was the baseline for the research to provide the evidence to influence the regulator to relax some of the constraints to WiFi implementation in a deep rural area in South Africa. The CSIR identified the Department of Communication as a specific Boundary Partner to influence and intended to see the research results being adopted by the DoC through an Ongoing process of dialogue between policy and research, such that evidence-based research informs government telecommunications policy.

A continuing concern for the project was the issue of a licence for the use of WiFi in Tsilitwa. It was therefore vital to track the changes taking place in the regulatory landscape with respect to WiFi. At the African WiFi conference in 2004, a representative of ICASA (the South African telecoms regulator) indicated a willingness to assist with facilitating the use of WiFi in tribal lands. In response, the CSIR met with the regulator to discuss issues of tribal and contiguous land as well as municipal PTN licence. This was followed by a second meeting in which ICASA was briefed on the Tsilitwa project and the regulatory implications were discussed. The ICASA councillor concluded that a test licence could be applied for, for research purposes renewable after a three month term. However, in light of the fact that the Tsilitwa project was located on tribal land, the regulator did raise the possibility that due to contiguous land (and not crossing public boundaries), no licence would be required.

The initial response to the CSIR request for a test licence is interesting:

Just to clarify however, the matter of a licence exemption for research was at this stage, merely an idea that emanated from the discussion. Our Policy division will examine this in light of other exemptions and ideally, would be best placed to do so on the strength of an application for exemption. It is in no way a position of the regulator that has as yet been adopted. It may be best to do so on a case by case basis, but I am copying the acting GM: telecoms to action an examination of this sort, given the discussion (4).

The CSIR succeeded in getting a test licence as well as a Universal Service Agency sponsorship of a VSAT connection to provide Internet and e-mail connectivity to the Sulenkama/Tsilitwa cluster and distributed it from the access point at the Sulenkama Hospital to the clinic in Tsilitwa via a WiFi connection. The Universal Service Agency (an agency of the DoC) sponsored the costs of the satellite link.

With the introduction of the Under-Serviced Area Licence, the CSIR also struck up a relationship with the USAL for the district with the view to exploring the possibilities of using their connectivity licence to expand the health network.

Tshwane PLC - A PLC solution, coupled with connectivity into an optical fibre network as well as wireless links in some areas, owned by a local authority is a convoluted option in which careful consideration should be given to where the boundaries are and where they are being overstepped. Tshwane Metro holds a PTN licence, but not a VANS licence. Their initial reasoning was to run the project in Rooiwal as a pilot study on a contiguous property Tshwane owned, which would remove most of the potential objections they could encounter, as they were providing communication and connectivity services to their employees. This could be categorised under their PTN licence. But Tshwane had a bigger vision. To confound the issue, in the regulatory environment it was still not clear how local authorities should position themselves, in the following areas :

  • Whether VANS can self-provide, in which case municipalities could apply for VANS licence, or
  • By means of a separate dispensation for local government, or
  • By virtue of having a PTN licence, which would allow them to provide wholesale services (reselling spare capacity) to operators and value-added service providers, which in turn could provide these services commercially.

This uncertainty in the regulatory environment possibly elicited an emotive response from Tshwane Metro in the press, in which they revealed their overall vision:

The head of their Internet project Global Digital Hub… has not only given me and everybody else in Pretoria permission to lay fibre, install Dslams, tunnel under roads and string copper from roof to roof, but is actively encouraging us to do so. He wants to link these community telephone exchanges into the Global Digital Hub - creating a massive WAN that will span the entire Pretoria.

He actively wants us to resell or stream for free satellite/multi-media content/CCTV data over our networks and to tell everybody about it. We must boldly proclaim and shout it from the rooftops that every single resident can now legally resell Telkom/Satellite/Internet/CCTV to anybody else - via Tshwane council's PTN licence. Effectively every single resident in Pretoria is now a fully fledged legal telecoms operator. (Tshwane) envisions a network where nobody has control over the data content and you can basically do whatever you want. There is no need for a VANS licence from ICASA or anybody else.

Where possible our block of copper connected houses will peer directly unto council's darkfiber network. We don't have to cut any roads to connect the blocks of dslmd houses, just string the fibre high above the road from one house to another. As time progresses, this fibre/copper will be buried beneath the roads. No need to cut the road either.(6)

It looks like the Tshwane frustration with the uncertainties in the telecoms regulations prompted an active challenge of the regulations. They would do it first and plead for mercy later. This is a situation of influence through activism to promote a vision that would have real benefits for the Metro and its residents.

MICTI - In Mozambique, MICTI as a government agency linked to a university has a good working relationship with government departments and a specific working relationship with Ministry of Science and Technology as well as the Ministry of Communication as well as the regulator, the Mozambique National Institute of Communications (INCM). The main emphasis of MICTI in both the IIM and the telecentre initiatives is to conduct research to understand how community-based connectivity issues can be dealt with and how these can be replicated elsewhere. Their role as the research partner was to find viable solutions, to develop models based on the research and to make recommendations as an outcome of their research. Their research strategies therefore were specifically designed to influence policy and legislation, through their direct engagement with the various government departments and the regulator.

MICTI recognised that the regulator wants to be exposed to a body of evidence to show that the implications of the alternative communication solutions need to be considered. To do this, MICTI focussed on establishing an interaction channel between the regulator and those who develop and implement innovative communication solutions for communities. The objective was to get the regulator to make themselves available to discuss issues in open forums, to listen to the issues and concerns related to regulatory aspects presented by the researchers. In these discussions, they wanted to discuss how the concept complies with legislation and where it breaks the current rules (or laws) to get a mandate from the regulator about how to proceed. This would be used as the basis for motivating how regulations need to be changed to make the concept legal. The project team made themselves available to provide technical explanations regarding aspects that the regulator may wish, which included implementation, financial and social details to show the viability, sustainability and necessity of the solution. They wanted the regulator use the results and lessons learned from the project as inputs to modify and produce future regulations and to assume the role of a stimulator in the research into innovative communication solutions.

MICTI also proposed some specific regulatory objectives, including:

  • Use the project as one of the pilot projects to implement the Universal Access Policy
  • Influencing the regulator to define a clear and fair regulation for VoIP (and make it legal)
  • Influencing the telecomm regulator to incentivise/commission the wireless communication frequency for educational purpose (and to allow Telecentres and education ISP’s to charge for bandwidth to share the costs on a cost-recovery basis)

MICTI did not see their research efforts in isolation and increased the number of partners and participants to enhance their ability to lobby for the acceptance of the solution. They promoted collaboration between research institutions, the regulator and Telco’s to share lessons learned and promote best practices, organized regular technical presentations on the project and related technologies and invited the regulator and telecom operators to attend. This was combined with writing about the project for publication in the local media about the use and importance of the technology and reporting experiences and benefits resulting from good regulatory environments in other countries. MICTI has also built a reputation for staging regular exhibitions on new communication solutions to promote their own ideas and the results of their research.

SchoolNet Namibia - Internet access can be provided through wired, wireless and satellite communications, all of which resort under the telecommunications regulatory control and the legislation governing the use of the communications spectrum. Access to the appropriate parts of the spectrum had to be endorsed by the Namibian Telecommunications Regulator, the NCC. As the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector was still under discussion and there was no indication about how and when new licences would be considered, a strategic partnership with Telecomm Namibia was crucial to be able to implement the use of WiFi under an existing licence.

SchoolNet consolidated its sphere of influence and gathered broad support for its vision by participating in initiatives such as the ICT Alliance (a collaboration of public/private/NGO partnerships), the ICT Education Alliance and XNet Development Alliance Trust, which has SchoolNet and Telecom Namibia as founding members. The XNet Trust is unique in allowing members from Namibia's civil society, business and public sectors to join and actively contribute to the development of Namibia's knowledge economy.

Securing a commitment from Telecomm Namibia was achieved through a protracted succession of discussions, pressure and pleading until they agreed to provide a viable connectivity service to schools. Permission and the blessing was then given by the regulator, Namibian NCC for the use of WiFi under the Telecomm Namibia licence. The outcome of the influence was apparent:

SchoolNet, in partnership with state-owned Telecom Namibia, a consortium of civil society organizations, and Alvarion built a broadband network to bring Internet access and voice services to 900 rural schools in Namibia covering 54,000 square kilometres. More than two thirds of the schools now connected did not previously even have a telephone line (7).

SchoolNet Namibia succeeded in influencing Namibia Telecom to expand access to existing wired and wireless infrastructure, charging affordable rates in the order of N$300(US$50) or less per month and provide stable bandwidth of 64 Kbps or more per installation and commit the 2.4GHz spectrum to education use. This could be expanded to where Namibia Telecom cooperates on the creation of 2.4GHz community mesh by communities on cost-recovery basis, sanction local VoIP running on their infrastructure and expanding affordable connectivity to homes. As they anticipated that possible saturation of the 2.4 GHz spectrum could be possible, SchoolNet Namibia moved one step further and promoted the dedicated use of 2.6 GHz for schools and succeeded in influencing the regulator to make this concession.

FMFI regulatory overview

2.4 GHz band

The FMFI projects have shown that the ISM spectrum and the low-cost wireless technologies that operate on these bands are of enormous value to the developing world with poor telecommunications and Internet infrastructures. There is significant diversity in the regulation of these bands across Africa. Not only do licence requirements and conditions change widely from country to country, but so do power, range and service restrictions as well as equipment certification requirements. Indeed, we find that as the burden of licence for transmission on these bands is relaxed, there is often an increase in restrictions on power, range, or type of service.

A licence is required to operate telecommunication services in the ISM band in Angola, Botswana, DRC, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa and Zambia. In Namibia and South Africa the bands are unlicensed, but ‘any use beyond the boundaries of one’s property is illegal.’ In Mozambique the use of the 2.4 GHz band is not allowed for commercial purposes (8).

The project documentation shows that most partners were able to work within the 2.4 GHz band, but that in certain cases they had to jump to higher frequencies and boost the power of the signals in situations where the normal line of sight principles did not work for them.

The lack of clarity on the regulations and the possible impact of enforcement discourage innovation at community level and limit the opportunities for small or even large entrepreneurs. Liberalisation of regulations, particularly in the 2.4 GHz band for WiFi applications should provide a friendly environment for community applications, entrepreneurship, reducing barriers to entry and the risk of regulatory intervention. In order to address these concerns, we propose that the FMFI partners, working with regional economic communities and international players, work to harmonize spectrum regulations in the region. These harmonized regulations should accommodate and encourage licence-exempt transmission over the standard 2.4 GHz ISM band, with some extension into higher frequencies where required.

The SchoolNet Namibia model added a new dimension, by succeeding to have a 2.6 GHz allocated as a specific frequency band for education, which would not have to compete with other users of the 2.4 GHz band.

Flexibility, access and enforcement

The FMFI partners in some countries found some regulatory flexibility within the overall rigidity of the legislative environment. They have effectively circumvented or complied with the constraints to be able to deliver on their original First Mile and First Inch objectives. The flexibility was revealed through the process of influence, involving opening up channels of communication between people, providing meaningful grassroots research evidence, building lasting relationships and ultimately getting licences or at least some form of approval. At the interpersonal level, FMFI partners have therefore been able to influence individuals, probably through their drive and enthusiasm to get to a point where officials started making concessions or bending the rules.

The documentation and the interviews show that in countries where the regulatory environment is less stringent and regulator is more open to discussion and accessible (Angola, Mozambique and Namibia), rapid progress is possible. There was no difficulty in making appointments at short notice and speaking directly to the key people in ministries and the regulator in these countries. This access and openness is probably the reason why the WiFi applications in these countries are all endorsed and legal, even though some partners may be overstepping the mark technically and financially. In the light of their relationship with the government structures, the threat of enforcement is not a serious consideration.

In South Africa, the scenario is entirely different. The FMFI partners report difficulties in gaining access to officials, building relationships and getting to the point where influence is possible. Permission or concessions for use of WiFi in rural areas tend to be forced through the slow and formal application process, hampered by changes in staff. The rules of engagement are used as the guideline, not the benefits rural people would see. The response of the partners has been frustration mixed with resistance to the point where the decision was made to carry on (possibly illegally) until somebody challenges them. Here the threat of enforcement is a serious consideration. The expectation is that the regulator could come and pull the plug on all four of the FMFI projects in South Africa.

  1. Adapted from research by Annemijn van Gorp, CSIR 14-07-2006 and interviews conducted by Uys du Buisson and Chris Morris during site visits in 2006.
  2. Department of Posts and Telecommunications Notice No. 1790 17 November 1995
  3. TRASA. (2004). TRASA Guidelines on Wireless Technologies Policy and Regulation. Gaborone: TRASA.
  4. Dr. Tracy Cohen Councillor: Independent Communications Authority of South Africa 2004
  5. http://www.doc.gov.za/Speeches/DoC%20Colloquium%20BMI-T%20final.pdf
  6. http://mybroadband.co.za/vb/showthread.php?t=29635&page=5
  7. http://www.alvarion.com/presscenter/pressreleases/2946/
  8. CRASCRASA Wireless Technologies Policy & Regulations 2006