The Government desperately appealed to the mobile telephone operators on Friday to slash telephone call costs in a bid to bring large numbers of Batswana into a digital age era.
Telecommunications Minister, Pelonomi┬á Venson-Moitoi,┬á said in a bit of a disappointed tone that “despite a noble gesture by government to provide mobile operators with smart subsidies in the Nteletsa 2 project, their cost of communications services remains high thus thwarting government efforts to bring the country, especially the rural folks closer to the global village.”
Speaking at Oliphants-Drift, a rural village 80kms east of Mochudi, Venson-Moitoi┬á said that, currently, Mascom Wireless, Orange and be-Mobile are the only licenced mobile operators dominating the space, adding that ┬áshe is ┬áunsettled about the cost of communication services to the customers despite the subsidy offered by the government in the project.
Spearheading the Nteletsa 2 groundbreaking project at the village, which will, in the future, see the residents of Oliphants-Drift obtain Mascom coverage, Venson-Moitoi expressed dissatisfaction with the operators.
Nteletsa 2 is a government-spearheaded scheme, aimed at bridging the gap between the rural areas and the urban centers. At the completion of the project, people in the rural areas are expected to have access to┬ácommunication facilities such as internet and mobile phone lines. It is also aimed at bolstering the IT knowledge in the countryside while at the same time increasing the economic activities.
“Let me impress upon you and others not here who may get this message that the cost of communications services in this country remains high. As we might recall, the collaboration between government and mobile operators in Nteletsa 2 project is in the form of provision of smart subsidy by government to these operators. My hope and desire is to see this subsidy being passed on to the end users,” she said, adding “Batswana need to benefit from this government’s subsidy through affordable services as well.”
Established ostensibly to prop up telecommunications in the country, the Nteletsa 2 project has extensively reached most places, including the rural villages but not the entire country. Besides providing information to the customers, the project aims, among others, at attracting foreign investment.
“To attract foreign direct investment our services must remain competitive in the SADC region and beyond,” she said. The competition for foreign investors has become very stiff and for us to be competitive, we need to be able to provide high quality telecommunications services at affordable prices.”
She said researchers have established a clear correlation between penetration levels of telecommunications with the level of Gross Development Product, adding that the government’s primary role continues to be creation of an enabling environment for the growth of telecommunications.
A new communication phenomenon, Botswana’s cellular subscriber base as at March 2009 stood at about 1,987400, which translates to a penetration rate of 105% while the fixed line stood at 145 200 or 8,5% penetration rate.
Despite the impressive cellphone figures, Venson-Moitoi says the government is concerned that some areas of this country have not yet been serviced, re-affirming government’s commitment to creating a conducive environment in which the private sector can participate in the development and provision of information and telecommunication services.
She said government has, through ‘Maitlamo’ set a clear and compelling roadmap that will drive social, economic, cultural and political transformation and further set the tone for the development of the industry, saying important bench-marks against which our country can measure itself against the best in the world are encouraging.
She said the “National ICT policy was providing Batswana with limitless opportunities and few impediments.”
With the construction of Mascom tower already started before the official ground breaking by Venson-Moitoi, the project is estimated to be completed in 6 months.
Currently, the residents of Oliphants-Drift do not access both local mobile operators but instead, rely on the South African MTN.
To obtain a clear local radio station is also a daunting task.
But with the project estimated to be complete soon, the residents would kiss good-bye this hurdles and obtain Mascom coverage, the first mobile operator in the village.┬á