Ghana: Telecommunications Bill meets Stiff Opposition at Stakeholders Forum
Stakeholders in the ICT industry in Ghana have requested that the proposed Telecommunications Bill 2006 and the National Communications Authority ACT 2005 be redrafted in take into account convergence. The two bills are being developed by the Ministry of Communications as part of the process to stream line the communications sector in Ghana. At a well attended meeting organized to solicit the views of industry stakeholders, various dissenting views were expressed about the proposed bill.
Beginning on a rather surprising note, the head of the regulatory agency, Major Tandoh, NCA Acting Director, disagreed with the whole bill and suggested that the bill be completely put aside. In his view an amendment of the old NCA Act 524 is a much better solution. In held the view that the old bill captures the issue of convergence whilst the new bill does not. In his words this new bill ‘is going to make my work more difficult’. Major Tandoh was not the only one worried about the new Bill, ISP veteran Dr. Nii Quainoo of NCS said, the bill fundamentally lacked a strong community focus. He said by focusing the bill on Telecommunications it completely neglected the trend towards convergence and shut out the Internet community altogether. Prof. Clement Dzidonu, who chaired the meeting reminded the draft committee that convergence is a clearly stated objective of the overriding Ghanaian ICT4AD policy and that this should be reflected in the bill.
Hon. Harunna Iddirisu, Member of Parliament and Parliamentary Communications committee member suggested that the section of the bill covering spectrum management be removed and placed into a new bill called Radio and Communications bill. His suggestion was supported by Benjamin Forson, Deputy Director of the NCA, who went on further to question the composition of the Spectrum management committee. By the proposed bill a six member Spectrum management committee shall be formed and of these all with the exception of the Director General of the NCA are to be selected from the security agencies of the country. He questioned whether such a decision was right in view of the new democratic dispensation in Ghana.
On the matter of the NCA ACT 2005, Dr. Quainoo was of the view that the board of the NCA as proposed had too much powers and control over the work of the authority. Under the new ACT, the NCA board is to meet once every month and has the powers to form committees which may include members of the board to perform such ‘functions of the board as the board may determine’
On interconnection, Bernard Forson, Deputy Director of the NCA said the current challenge in the telecoms industry was not interconnection per say but rather the obligation to pay. The problem of interconnection in his view was not that Telco providers were failing to interconnect but rather the absence of a provision empowering the NCA to oblige operators to pay each other for interconnection charges. Currently there is a huge problem of interconnection payment in the Telecom sector in Ghana.
A large section of the bill is also devoted to the issue universal service and Access. The roles and obligations of the Ghana Investment Fund for Telecommunications (GFTEL) is carefully stated in the bill and clearly captures the essential elements of the Telecommunications policy. GIFTEL is Ghana response to rural telecommunications and internet services. It seeks to provide start up funds for rural telecommunication projects and is financed by contributions from operators as stipulated in their license. GIFTEL is particularly important as its operation in the past had been marred by huge inefficiencies and perceived corruption.
The 58 page Telecommunication Bill covers a wide range of issues including the functions of the Minister of Communication , Licence and Frequency Authorisations, Interconnection issues, Access to Facilities and Gateways, Universal Service Access and Tarrifs, An investment fund for telecommunications, Spectrum management, offences and fees. The Bill seeks to build upon the Telecommunication Policy which was passed by parliament last year. The NCA ACT on the other hand seeks to redefine the functions of the NCA and strengthen its autonomy. Overall the Bill and the Act stress the importance of transparency and autonomy for the NCA and its operations.
In their defense Prof. Kofi Kumado who is chair of the draft community said the issues being raised were clear policy issues and which were beyond the mandate of his committee and suggested that perhaps the Ministry of Communication will have to review the committee’s mandate to look at some of the issues being raised.
Stakeholders asked for the extension of the time for commenting on the two documents due to the late circulation of the bill to stakeholders. It was therefore agreed that comments will be received in an electronic form after the meeting. Telecom operators at the meting said they might send a coordinated industry position to the committee at a later date.