Botswana turns to neighbours

Botswana’s Government is reverting to unorthodox methods to help improve tele-density. Its Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology has aired a scheme to allow other countries' operators to expand their networks into Botswana.

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By  Richard Agnew Published  July 4, 2004

|~|fixed3.gif|~||~|Botswana’s Government is reverting to unorthodox methods to help improve tele-density. The Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology (MoCST) is considering a scheme to allow operators from neighbouring countries to extend their networks over its borders. It also plans to extend public subsidies to Botswana’s two mobile operators as part of the country’s rural telecoms initiative, which currently helps fund the expansion of fixed infrastructure. The investment needed to extend mobile coverage would be allocated out of the national rural telephony development budget, but operational and maintenance expenses would fall on the country’s private players, Mascom and Orange Botswana. “Instead of the budget focusing on fixed lines, we could find ways of working with the mobile operators to help them reach areas that are not economically viable. This is something we are exploring and openly discussing,” Boyce Sebetlela, Botswana’s Minister of CST, tells CommsMEA. “If we are able to do this, we could have close to 75% coverage of the country in a very short period of time,” he adds. The plan to allow providers from neighbouring countries to expand their networks into Botswana is currently being discussed by the government and the country’s telecoms regulator, the Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA). According to Sebetlela, the proposal includes both mobile and fixed infrastructure. Foreign operators agreeing to participate would receive a share of revenues in return, he adds. “We share borders with South Africa and Namibia, for instance. If they have facilities close to our border, people that are very far from the infrastructure that currently exists could benefit from infrastructure available in other countries,” says Sebetlela. The initiative reflects growing use of public funds to aid telecoms roll out in regions deemed less profitable in Africa. In neighbouring South Africa, the government has licensed a number of rural operators that will also receive subsidies. “The approach highlights the difficulty of creating viable businesses in rural telecoms in Africa if there are no state subsidies,” says Guy Zibi, director, EMEA, Pyramid Research. “It makes sense to subsidise access to rural areas in some fashion. The main concern would be to ensure that those subsidies are tied to actual achievements, or it’s unlikely to work,” he adds. Meanwhile, moves are also being made to prepare the country’s state-owned fixed operator, Botswana Telecoms Corporation (BTC), for privatisation. According to Sebetlela, the government and BTA are currently discussing the first phase of the plan, which would see BTC corporatised. A full initial public offering (IPO) and restructuring of the operator could potentially follow. “Once BTC gets back to profitability, the first step will be corporatisation. Then we will look at an IPO,” says Sebetlela. “In a small market like Botswana, we doubt whether a second fixed operator is viable. So we are looking at separating the network and service operations of BTC and allowing the network operation to look beyond Botswana in terms of investment,” he adds.||**||

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