Wednesday, October 28, 2020

BPC, Liquid Telecom drag BOCRA to court

The telecommunications regulator, Botswana Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) will this week once again find itself in court to defend its decision to refuse issuing a joint venture company owned by the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) and Liquid Telecom with a telecommunication and system license.

The joint venture company, Liquid Telecom Botswana Limited (LTBL)’s efforts to immediately kick start its operations have since proven futile following BOCRA’s decision to delay with the issuance of the required license.

LTBL made a license application more than four months ago but has since been thrown from pillar to post by the regulator. The company representatives are said to have already met with energy minister, Sadique Kebonang in a bid to draw his attention to the issue. On the other hand, BOCRA is said to have written a letter to BPC on 15 June 2017 suggesting that the power utility is required by Section 39 and 40 of the BOCRA ACT to have a telecommunications service license and/or a telecommunications equipment license for offering and provision of the Indefeasible Right of Use Agreement and infrastructure to LTBL.  

In terms of section 39 of the BOCRA Act, a person is not permitted to provide a telecommunication service unless he or she has been granted a license by the board to do so.

This week, sources close to the matter indicated that following several meetings and exchange of communiqu├®s between LTBL and BPC on one hand and BOCRA on another, the issue has since reached deadlock.

As a result, LTBL has since notified BOCRA of its intention to take the matter to court next week with BPC also expected to take the legal route to resolve the matter.  

Industry players observed this past week that following its appearance at the Information and Communication Technology Parliamentary Committee recently, Botswana Fibre Networks (BoFinet) admitted that it was unsettled by the coming of a new player in highly competitive sector.

BoFinet, which is hundred percent owned by the government told the Parliamentary committee through its Chief Executive Officer Mabua Mabua that the new development threatens its existence.

Mabua told the Committee that BOFINET had tendered when BPC posted the tender in a bid to acquire fibre network countrywide, but said however that the foreign company was selected for the joint venture.

BPC on the other hand is said to have identified Liquid Telecommunications Holdings Limited (LTHL) as an experienced service provider with whom it could partner and work with to sell backbone service to the local market. Under the agreement, LTHL is to contribute funding and skills development whilst BPC on the other end is to contribute its infrastructure to the venture through a lease of atleast 20 years.

“It was after the appearance of BoFinet at the parliamentary committee that now BOCRA has come out to ask BPC to apply for a license, could that be a coincidence?” rhetorically asked a source close to the matter late last week.

The Botswana Power Corporation has optical fibre and related equipment installed on the whole of its transmission network. In October 2016, the power utility agreed to lease excess optical fibres from its network to Liquid Telecom, creating a new telecoms network provider with extensive reach across Botswana. The agreement was signed by the then BPC Chief Executive Jacob Raleru, and Nic Rudnick, CEO at Liquid Telecom, at a ceremony held in the capital Gaborone.

The decision by BPC to take BOCRA to take court is believed to be an indication to its resistance to the regulator’s demand to have it licensed. The power utility company is said to be in disagreement with the interpretation of section 39 and 40 of the BOCRA ACT by the regulator.

Sunday Standard has been informed that at a recent meeting held between the representatives of BOCRA and BPC, the latter’s Chief Executive Stefan Schwarzfischer is said to have told the regulator that, the BPC infrastructure on its own is not a telecommunication system but merely part of the a system that will be developed by the established joint venture company.

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