Telcos expect reforms as new NCA director takes office

With the appointment of Joseph Anokye as new Acting Director-General of telecoms regulator National Communications Authority (NCA), the telcos say they are looking forward to institutional and regulatory reforms.

While welcoming the Director-General, the telcos also said they want greater collaboration between industry players and the NCA under the new leadership to develop Ghana’s telecoms and ICT sector.

Although they admit the telecoms industry in Ghana has seen remarkable growth in the over 20 years that the NCA has been in existence, telcos say they also envision continued growth of the sector.

The telcos expressed these sentiments to Adom News as part of answers to a questionnaire that sought to find their expectations under the new leadership of Mr Anokye.

However, beyond these, some telcos were very direct and emphatic in stating their expectations of the NCA under a new leader.

Reforms

One of the telecoms company said, “with the appointment of the new DG of the NCA, expectations of his role are not only high. His role is challenging, however, we believe his appointment provides an opportunity for some institutional and regulatory reforms for the NCA with the support of all players in the ecosystem.”

They mentioned some of the expected reforms as the spectrum and license regulatory framework, saying 4G/5G technologies are all natural evolutions for existing telcos; therefore placing barriers and restrictions on how operators can utilize their existing spectra deprives consumers of the benefits of advanced data experience and sets Ghana backward.

“We, therefore, believe the new DG has the opportunity to leverage his new role to change the outlook of the NCA and its regulatory frameworks more expeditiously by introducing technology and service neutral licenses,” the company which wants to remain anonymous said.

Still on 4G another telco argued that Ghana is behind in the uptake of 4G services comparatively in the African telecommunications narrative because of the country’s chosen strategy for deployment and monetization of spectrum

It would be recalled that in 2015, NCA sold 800Mhz 4G spectrum for US$67.5 million and only one telco, MTN, could afford one. The other telcos stated clearly they could not afford even at half the price. Even MTN, the bought the spectrum shared the view it was too expensive.

Till date, three major telcos have been kept out of the 4G space simply because of the relatively high 4G spectrum price, which ended up leaving one spectrum slot in the 800MHz band unsold.

The telcos noted that there is a clear high demand for data which is growing and there is an opportunity for socio-economic benefits to be gained by the country if mobile data services are made affordable.

They believe one of the ways to make data affordable is to treat spectrum like an essential commodity and sell it at a reasonable price so that all players can improve service for the benefit of the entire country.

“The new NCA administration should correct the mistake of placing barriers in the way of operators and encourage the rapid growth of the sector in this regard.

“We would like to see Mr. Joseph Anokye’s leadership at the NCA introduce competitive and reasonable pricing of spectrum that would allow for further positive investment in the economy rather than restrict investment plans caused by over-spending on a spectrum in the Ghanaian market,” one telco said.

Spectrum sharing

Another telco was of the view that allowing active infrastructure and spectrum sharing will also enable the government to meet its revenue objectives for the sector, establish a sustainable licensing regime and help NCA to regain its status as a regional role model for pro-competitive regulatory innovation.

“We believe that with the creation of a licensing regime which will remain relevant for the next 15 to 20 years, based on a technology and service neutrality and infrastructure sharing, we would have a significant positive impact on the industry,” the telco said.

One telco is of the view that a rapid reform of the current licensing regime being operated by the NCA is imperative to new technology rollout that could be shared between two or more licensed market players, and allow players to pull some of their spectrum resources together, and thereby each could focus on other differentiating areas apart from coverage, fostering the creation of new services for the consumers.

Indeed, some telcos have proposed to partner some broadband wireless access (BWA) licensees to rollout 4G networks wider across the country but the NCA refused them the opportunity for lack of policies and regulations for such partnerships.

The telcos believe the speedy introduction of the necessary policy framework for such partnerships will improve levels of investment into the sector to drive technology development and improve the services and affordability to customers.

In view of fast evolving technologies, some telcos also believe it is imperative that regulations are urgently made supportive and flexible enough, not only to allow for various forms of partnerships, but also to enable spectrum re-farming and spectrum use.

“Clarity and regulatory certainty is required for a sound spectrum strategy for the country given that the last spectrum was discriminatorily priced,” one said, adding that “engagement with the industry players is key.”

QoS sanctions

Some telcos said they would also like to see the new DG change the current use of Quality of Service sanctions as a revenue source for the NCA and move to a phase where it is supportive the industry and a pro-consumer approach where such penalties are rather mandated to be invested in network improvements for consumers.

Indeed, some consumers have in the past proposed compensations for affected customers rather than a fine that want into the pocket of NCA, while affected consumers went un-appeased.

Market structure

“NCA also needs to correct the current market structures which only sees only one dominant player being profitable in the market,” one telco said.

They disclosed that the NCA has carried out some extensive market studies through international consultants such as Analysys Mason but has failed to engage operators on the outcomes of these studies in order to take decisive decisions to address the current imbalance in the market.

The telcos, therefore, expect the new DG to engage telcos on the outcomes of the market studies.

Protection

They are also appealing to the new DG to make the NCA assist them to get more protection for their infrastructure against theft and un-coordinated work by state agencies who dig up cables with careless abandon.

“We need more protection against fibre cuts, battery theft, and cable theft – more facilitation for the Right of Way and access to governmental infrastructure like electricity poles, government buildings, and others,” they said.

But in all, the telcos said what is most important for the entire industry is more consultative engagements that actually seeks to take on board the inputs of industry, consumers and the national agenda for the development of any regulatory guidelines and interventions.

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