Some tourism operators are operating pirate internet services ÔÇô the Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA) confirmed this week.
BTA officers recently caught 13 tourism operators using sophisticated satellite equipment to transmit and receive e-mails in Maun, Kasane and Gantsi without licenses from the telecommunications authority.
The Sunday Standard is also informed that the BTA is grappling with multinational companies, especially those operating within the mining industry, who are ignoring local telecommunication regulations and defying the telecommunications authority as, even after repeated cautions, they continue to bypass local ISPs, opting to use satellite equipment for their internet and communications needs. Such operators are also said to be continuously encroaching onto the local frequency bandwidth as they operate radio communications equipment without authority from BTA.
This was confirmed by BTA Senior Public Relations Officer, Aaron Nyelesi, who said that their investigations have unraveled illegal operations of unlicensed telecommunication equipment by some tourism enterprises, which is a contravention of the Telecommunications Act.
Nyelesi also said that though such incidences are not common, they have indeed discovered some multinational companies who, primarily out of ignorance bypass local ISPs, opting to use their own equipment without authority from BTA.
He explained that such devices give the users free uninterrupted internet access via satellite even in the absence of telephonic equipment like phone lines which are commonly used by ISPs. He added that the culprits are in contravention of the Telecommunications Act which is implemented by the BTA as the licensing authority in Botswana.
The Telecommunications Act requires any user of whatever telecommunications equipment of any kind to get a license from the BTA failing which one will be in contravention of the law and liable to penalties.
The BTA, an independent regulatory authority whose mandate is to regulate and supervise all aspects of the telecommunications industry, is vested with the responsibility of managing the frequency spectrum, setting industry standards and acting as a responsible and accountable industry referee.
Nyelesi explained that any telecommunications equipment that is intended for use in Botswana has to be type approved by the BTA to ensure that it conforms to local and regional standards. Therefore, he said, it is wrong for the lodge operators to use V-sat technology in Botswana without BTA authority. He added that the use of satellite technology to receive and transmit e-mails constitutes broadcasting and, therefore, falls squarely within the BTA mandate.
Asked whether any action will be taken against the culprits, Nyelesi said nothing has been done to bring the culprits to order as BTA feels that they did it out of ignorance, adding that the challenge is on the corporation to step up its education campaign to sensitize people about the dangers of such actions.
“We feel that such actions are not done out of malice but out of ignorance of the law and the mandate of the BTA. As a licensing authority we appreciate that a lot remains to be done to educate the public about our mandate and responsibilities and we are working around the clock to that end,” he said.
At a recent Francistown City Council meeting, a BTA official admitted that they have on more than one occasion opted to caution those found to have flouted BTA rules and regulations instead of penalizing them, the reason being that their primary objective is not to punish industry players but rather to nurture and grow the fragile telecommunications industry. At this stage the idea is to educate rather than penalize,” she said.
Nyelesi added that as part of their education campaign they have visited numerous council sittings around the country to educate them about the mandate of the BTA and they have also participated in various fairs like ITEX and the consumer fair.
But Nyelesi’s contention that some people contravene the telecommunications act out of ignorance was shot down by some local ISPs who say that they feel shortchanged by the actions of the BTA because it seems that the corporation is on the side of the bad guys.
“It is surprising that BTA, which insisted that local ISPs follow set procedures to meet its rigorous standards and pay its high tariffs to get licensing and continues to keep them on a tight leash with threats of stiff penalties should they break the law, would be the ones who are now making excuses for multinational companies who are clearly in breach of the BTA rules,” they said.
The local ISPs went on to pour water on Nyelesi’s statements, saying that the very people who break BTA rules originate from first world countries whose telecommunications industries are very advanced, and they are very much aware of the existence of a licensing authority in any country.
Rather, they said, the multinational companies have exhibited arrogance and outright defiance of BTA procedures by bringing their superior technology which is licensed in their native countries and operating it in Botswana but without local authority.
They also argue that the multinational companies usually come here as subcontractors to local companies who use local ISPs and, therefore, it is untrue that they are not aware of the existence of local ISPs.
The local ISPs have challenged the BTA to take action to remedy the situation as the obtaining scenario, in which the BTA has crossed floors to take sides with multinational companies, thereby shirking its responsibility of protecting the local telecommunication industry players, is costing them millions in lost business.