For Improved Quality Service… MPs Urge ISPs, GSMs Operators

 

Members of the Committee on Information and Communications in Parliament on Monday 1st October, 2018 interacted with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and GSMs operators on the expansion and challenges of Information, Communication Technology (ICT) in the country.

In his opening statement at Shangri La along the Lumley Beach Road in Freetown, the Deputy Leader of Government Business in Parliament, Hon. Matthew Nyuma, who is also Chairman of the Committee, said the interactive meeting was designed to engage and discuss about the operation, expansion and challenges of the ICT sector and to find possible solutions to ensure that every Sierra Leonean has access to an affordable ICT connection. The MP assured that the Committee through Parliament was ready to selflessly work with all ISPs and GSMs operators in the country.

The Deputy Leader of the All People’s Congress (APC) party in Parliament, Hon. Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, who chaired the interactive meeting, lauded the Committee Chairman for the assurance he has given to the ISPs and GSMs operators. He disclosed that he initiated the idea to interact with the ICT sector to support their strides to provide quality service. Hon. IB Kargbo admonished the government to continue collaborating with the ICT sector as, according to him, it is paramount to achieving the aspirations of the New Direction. The seasoned Journalist and lawmaker also urged every facet of the ICT sector to step up its activities in the country.

In his presentation on their expansion and challenges, the Managing Director of the Sierra Leone Cable Network (SALCAB), Ishmael Kebbay said currently, about 71% of the overall country’s population has access to connectivity services, while 25% (1.7 million people) is completely uncovered, 4% of the population is partly covered with spillover coverage from towers/cell site in major towns and cities.

He furthered that the rural area is the most underserved market with 31% full coverage penetration and 75% partial coverage penetration. “We will be activating distribution hubs in major cities and townships to support our clients in reducing the cost of transmission and last mile distribution,” he assured.

Mr. Kebbay also dilated on the challenges of ISPs and GSMs operators, such as the operation cost per site which, he said, is high and that most rural sites are off grid because they run on diesel energy costs that can be higher than site revenue. He further asserted that in hilly terrains, traditional high sites do not have reduced coverage range and that signals run right across the top of valleys.

The Managing Director also raised concern that revenue per site is low in sparsely population areas, noting that a carrier’s revenue per site is not enough to pay the monthly operating costs of the site as Rural Average Revenue per Subscriber is also low. “OPEX, not CAPEX, is another challenge because even if the network capital is subsidized, it cannot operate if it loses money,” he said.

GSMs Operators, including Africell and Orange claimed that they have been expanding their networks since they started operating in the country and assured that they would continue to expand until they cover every area around the country.

One of the major challenges they highlighted was taking the fiber optic cable around the country which, they claimed, has hindered their expansion strides. They also identified access to modern handsets, high tax, amongst other challenges.

The Deputy Minister of Information and Communications, Solomon Jamiru Esq. stressed that the importance of ICT should not be trivialized because, according to him, it is core criterion to develop every sector in Sierra Leone. He said government has invested huge sums of money on the promotion of ICT. The Deputy Minister disclosed that the Information Ministry plans to review a few legal and policy regulations to better transform the ICT sector.

 

The Chairman of the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM), Dr. Prince Alexander Harding lauded the initiative of the interactive meeting, noting that no country would develop more than its ICT standard. He said as regulators, they would cushion the ICT sector when and where necessary.

Dr. Harding emphasized that subscribers are interested in the cost and quality service from the ICT sector, noting that NATCOM is created to equally promote public interest and to protect the investment of all ISPs and GSMs operators in Sierra Leone.

 

Other MPs on the Committee averred that the ICT sector should strive to provide ICT access in all schools and higher institutions of learning as part of their expansion strides. They also recalled how President Rtd. Brig. Julius Maada Bio emphasized in his New Direction Manifesto that an efficient ICT network improves human life and accelerates economic development. The lawmakers therefore urged all facets of the ICT sector to always channel their concerns to the Committee.