LCA on track: Posholi

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

THE Le­sotho Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Author­ity (LCA) last Fri­day held a sym­po­sium to com­mem­o­rate World Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion and In­for­ma­tion So­ci­ety Day. The sem­i­nar took place at Maseru Sun Ca­banas. The event, cel­e­brated an­nu­ally on 17 May to mark the estab­lish­ment of the In­ter­na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Union (ITU), also marked 150 years of the ITU’S ex­is­tence this year un­der the theme: “Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and ICTS (In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Tech­nolo­gies): Driv­ers of In­no­va­tion.” In this wide-rang­ing in­ter­view, LCA Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer, Mone­hela Posholi speaks with Le­sotho Times ( LT) re­porter, Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane, about the event and other is­sues re­lat­ing to the LCA.

LT: May 17 is ob­vi­ously an im­por­tant day on the LCA cal­en­dar, as ev­i­denced by the many stake­hold­ers who at­tended the World Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion and In­for­ma­tion So­ci­ety Day at Maseru Sun Ca­banas last Fri­day. Could you please ex­plain fur­ther the sig­nif­i­cance of this day and how it came about?

Posholi: Let us start by set­ting the record straight. We, as the LCA, or­gan­ised the event for Le­sotho at large, so it was not our cel­e­bra­tion as such, but rather the coun­try’s. How­ever, there had to be some­one to or­ga­nize it, which was where the LCA came in. The im­por­tance of the day is to high­light the sig­nif­i­cance of In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Tech­nolo­gies and the ef­fect they have on the so­cio-eco­nomic devel­op­ment of our coun­tries. ICTS have been recog­nised as driv­ers of eco­nomic growth through­out the world and their im­pact is re­ally cross-cut­ting in most ar­eas of our eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity. And the im­por­tance of this year’s event, in ad­di­tion to mark­ing World Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion and In­for­ma­tion So­ci­ety Day, was also to com­mem­o­rate the 150th birth­day of ITU, which was es­tab­lished in 1865 as the In­ter­na­tional Tele­graph Union. But it was later changed into In­ter­na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Union in 1934 in or­der to em­brace a broader man­date of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion and the evo­lu­tion of tech­nol­ogy. How­ever, since we are aware that even the man­date has since widened from telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion to other Ict-re­lated func­tions, such as in­ter­net broad­band et-cetera, it has nonethe­less, been agreed that the name of the or­gan­i­sa­tion will re­main In­ter­na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Union. The cel­e­bra­tions are held ev­ery year on the 17th of May, but like I said, this year they marked yet an­other im­por­tant mile­stone be­cause of the 150th birth­day.

LT: What are the ob­jec­tives and man­date of the In­ter­na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Union?

Posholi: The In­ter­na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Union is a world­wide body which is re­ally a United Na­tions’ spe­cialised agency for com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ICTS in gen­eral. It is the one charged by the UN to spear­head de­vel­op­ments and co­or­di­nate world ac­tiv­i­ties on ICTS, and even bring them to the at­ten­tion of world lead­ers. So one can sim­ply say the ITU drives the glob­al­i­sa­tion of ICTS. ICT is­sues re­quire co­or­di­na­tion be­cause if you are talk­ing, for in­stance, about tele­phone ser­vices, you need to be able, when you call over­seas from Le­sotho, you need to be able to make that con­ver­sa­tion un­in­ter­rupted and with­out any in­ter­fer­ence from any­one, any­where. So that re­quires co­or­di­na­tion. Im­por­tantly also, the ITU has to make sure the en­tire world is evolv­ing in or­der to ben­e­fit from ad­van­tages of hav­ing well-de­vel­oped ICT in­fra­struc­ture in our coun­tries. This now leads me to ex­plain that the In­ter­na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Union has three bu­reaus it works with. It has the Stan­dard­iza­tion Bureau, which is meant to en­sure that tech­nolo­gies and de­vices that we use in­ter­op­er­ate with each other. Then there is the Ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tion Bureau which en­sures that ra­dio fre­quen­cies, which are the waves that we use for com­mu­ni­ca­tion pur­poses, are co­or­di­nated such that if you have a fre­quency that you are op­er­at­ing on as a coun­try, it would not be used by any­one else so that we do not have any dam­ag­ing in­ter­fer­ence. The Ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tion Bureau op­er­ates through ra­dio con­fer­ences which are held reg­u­larly and co­or­di­nated world­wide by the ITU. For in­stance, in Novem­ber this year, there is go­ing to be a five-week World Ra­dio Con­fer­ence in Geneva to co­or­di­nate and dis­cuss and reach res­o­lu­tions on Ra­dio­com­mu­ni­ca­tion so that fre­quen­cies, which are a scarce re­source and fi­nite in na­ture, can be al­lo­cat- ed to coun­tries ef­fi­ciently in or­der for those na­tions to car­ry­out and of­fer their com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices. Now we have, as the last, a Devel­op­ment Bureau which was es­tab­lished in or­der to as­sist de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, such as Le­sotho, through ca­pac­ity devel­op­ment pro­grammes that as­sist in terms of bring­ing those na­tions up to speed with ad­vances in ICT.

LT: How has Le­sotho specif­i­cally ben­e­fit­ted from be­ing an ITU mem­ber?

Posholi: Le­sotho re­cently ben­e­fited from the ITU in the devel­op­ment of a broad­band pol­icy, which is at draft stage at the mo­ment. Also the In­ter­na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Union, work­ing with the Euro­pean Union (EU), as­sisted us re­cently in de­vel­op­ing cy­ber se­cu­rity draft bills that are very im­por­tant in se­cu­rity for com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices, and th­ese now need to be con­sid­ered and en­acted into law. As a coun­try, we have also ben­e­fited in terms of ca­pac­ity build­ing, the LCA in par­tic­u­lar, in the reg­u­la­tory func­tion be­cause you may re­call that this reg­u­la­tory func­tion, or regime, is a new phe­nom­e­non in Le­sotho. The LCA, for in­stance, was es­tab­lished in 2000 and prior to that, the reg­u­la­tory func­tion was per­formed by the LTC (Le­sotho Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­pany) which was pri­va­tised and even­tu­ally be­came Econet Tele­com Le­sotho. So the reg­u­la­tory func­tion had to be moved to a sep­a­rate, in­de­pen­dent en­tity. It was the LTA (Le­sotho Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Author­ity) at the time, now it’s the LCA, and there had to be some ca­pac­ity build­ing which had to hap­pen very quickly for this en­tity to per­form its func­tion ef­fec­tively, and bring the nec­es­sary com­pe­ti­tion into the mar­ket and han­dle all th­ese sen­si­tive is­sues re­lated to com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

We con­tinue to be a mem­ber of the ITU as a coun­try, and Le­sotho is usu­ally rep­re­sented in the union by the LCA. How­ever, where it be­comes nec­es­sary depend­ing on the agenda, the min­istry (of com­mu­ni­ca­tions) rep­re­sents the coun­try. The bot­tom line is Le­sotho is a mem­ber of the ITU, and not the LCA.

LT: Hav­ing talked about a broad­band pol­icy and cy­ber se­cu­rity bills, what are their ma­jor ad­van­tages?

Posholi: To put it into per­spec­tive, we have three main func­tions here — a pol­icy func­tion per­formed by the min­istry be­cause gov­ern­ment is the pol­i­cy­maker; a reg­u­la­tory func­tion which is per­formed by LCA, and ser­vice pro­vi­sion, which is pro­vided by ser­vice-providers. We are talk­ing here of the broad­band pol­icy which is be­ing driven by the min­istry, as the pol­i­cy­maker. But of course, the LCA takes part due to its im­por­tance to the com­mu­ni­ca­tions sec­tor as a whole. We par­tic­i­pated ac­tively in the devel­op­ment of the pol­icy. It is now ready for pro­cess­ing and to be fi­nalised into adop­tion by gov­ern­ment. The min­istry would be re­spon­si­ble for car­ry­ing out those fi­nal pro­cesses in terms of fi­nal­is­ing it. It is a very im­por­tant piece of doc­u­ment. You may be aware that the in­ter­net is the fu­ture of the sec­tor. So many ser­vices are now be­ing of­fered on the in­ter­net. So much in­for­ma­tion is avail­able on the in­ter­net. To re­ally un­lock the po­ten­tial that the ICT holds, we need to de­velop the in­ter­net very quickly. The fo­cus now is on broad­band, which could be termed an ad­vanced level of in­ter­net in terms of speed and avail­abil­ity. The pol­icy seeks to de­velop this in the coun­try. This is where the world is go­ing. It is only when a pol­icy has been adopted that other strate­gies to im­ple­ment that pol­icy would be de­vel­oped. We are await­ing adop­tion of that pol­icy quite ea­gerly so that we can now move into the devel­op­ment of re­lated and as­so­ci­ated strate­gies. But de­spite the de­lays, this sec­tor has not stopped in terms of de­vel­op­ing broad­band. You may be aware that the mo­bile sec­tor, in terms of mo­bile de­vices, has made se­ri­ous in­roads into the devel­op­ment of broad­band in that third-gen­er­a­tion net­works (3G) have been de­vel­oped in Le­sotho by op­er­a­tors so that when­ever you have ac­cess to mo­bile ser­vices, you are also able to ac­cess 3G so that you can connect into the in­ter­net and browse through your smart­phone, lap­top or what­ever mo­bile de­vice you are us­ing. And you may be aware that one of the op­er­a­tors has started of­fer­ing Long Term Evo­lu­tion (LTE) (4G) ser­vices which of­fer broad­band.

LT: How far has Le­sotho gone in chang­ing from ana­logue to dig­i­tal broad­cast­ing?

Posholi: The ac­tual dead­line for ter­res­trial dig­i­tal migration from ana­logue is 17 June 2015 – which is next month. It’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand that this af­fects ter­res­trial. Most of us here are cur­rently en­joy­ing satel­lite tele­vi­sion, which we re­ceive through satel­lite dishes at our homes or work­places. But the dig­i­tal migration we are talk­ing about re­lates to ter­res­trial, which does not come from satel­lite. What this process seeks to do is to im­prove tele­vi­sion qual­ity on ter­res­trial, not satel­lite so that per­haps we can even have more or less the same ser­vices that you would oth­er­wise get in terms of qual­ity on satel­lite. Most im­por­tantly, this is go­ing to free-up some spec­trum. Re­mem­ber we talked about ra­dio fre­quency or spec­trum be­ing a scarce re­source and fi­nite; we need to save what we have as much as pos­si­ble be­cause we have more and more peo­ple com­ing in with mo­bile ser­vices and all mo­bile ser­vices are us­ing ra­dio fre­quency and spec­trum and we need more of that scarce re­source. So dig­i­tal migration is go­ing to free-up some fre­quency bands that were be­ing used by tele­vi­sion and make them avail­able to mo­bile wire­less ser­vices. More de­tails on this are fur­ther go­ing to be dis­cussed at the World Ra­dio Con­fer­ence I have al­ready said will be held in Novem­ber this year. I should then high­light that the whole dig­i­tal migration process was ini­ti­ated by the ITU in 2006 for Re­gion One, which cov­ers Africa, Europe, Mid­dle East and Is­lamic Repub­lic of Iran. The ex­pec­ta­tion for this re­gion is that come 17 June 2015, the whole re­gion should have moved to dig­i­tal ter­res­trial tele­vi­sion. The im­pli­ca­tions of that, as far as the LCA is con­cerned, is that be­ing charged with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of man­ag­ing ra­dio fre­quency spec­trum, if af­ter 17 June it is found that there is a tele­vi­sion sta­tion that is still broad­cast­ing on ana­logue plat­form and has not mi­grated and is found to be in­ter­fer­ing with an­other tele­vi­sion sta­tion that has moved to dig­i­tal plat­form, that ana­logue tele­vi­sion sta­tion will no longer en­joy any pro­tec­tion. It will have to be closed down. If, for ar­gu­ment’s sake, TV Le­sotho, or any other tele­vi­sion broad­cast­ing from here, would not have mi­grated to dig­i­tal af­ter 17 June, and ap­pears to be in­ter­fer­ing with an­other tele­vi­sion sta­tion in South Africa which has mi­grated, we would have no pro­tec­tion what­so­ever to give to the Le­sotho sta­tion. And, in con­sul­ta­tion with our coun­ter­parts in South Africa, then we would have to close down that sta­tion. That’s how we come in as the LCA as far as is­sues of ra­dio fre­quency man­age­ment is con­cerned. In terms of re­as­sur­ing you as to where we would be come 17 June, the min­istry has es­tab­lished a unit – Dig­i­tal Migration Unit – which is driv­ing the process. They will be in a bet­ter po­si­tion to an­swer whether or not we will have mi­grated come 17 June.

LT: What are gen­eral chal­lenges you face as LCA?

Posholi: First of all one can say that the Author­ity since its estab­lish­ment in 2000 I think it has made very good progress in de­vel­op­ing the com­mu­ni­ca­tion sec­tor in the coun­try, in terms of lib­er­al­iz­ing the sec­tor, in terms of bring­ing com­pe­ti­tion and mak­ing sure that the mod­ern ser­vices of com­mu­ni­ca­tions are also of­fered in Le­sotho. Well, there are some chal­lenges but we came up with some in­ter­ven­tions to try to ad­dress them. One of the chal­lenges that we were fac­ing for a very long time was en­sur­ing that we have a coun­try­wide cov­er­age.

We re­alised that the op­er­a­tors, we have two op­er­a­tors be­ing Econet Tele­com Le­sotho and Vo­da­com Le­sotho, their in­ter­est was to de­velop com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­fra­struc­ture in ar­eas where there are large num­bers of pop­u­la­tion, densely pop­u­lated, be­ing ur­ban and peri-ur­ban ar­eas, where they know that they will be enough traf­fic to be gen­er­ated from those ar­eas for them to gen­er­ate suf­fi­cient rev­enues and get a good re­turn on their in­vest­ment. But there were other ar­eas through­out the coun­try which were not en­joy­ing the same level of pop­u­la­tion den­sity and which were of no in­ter­est to the op­er­a­tors and we had to find a way to ad­dress them.

We then came up with an ini­tia­tive around 2009, when we es­tab­lished what is called Uni­ver­sal Ser­vice Fund (USF) now, which was meant to ad­dress those ar­eas. To-date we have de­vel­oped a coun­try­wide, over 25 sites through pro­vi­sion of sub­sidy to the op­er­a­tors to de­velop mo­bile ser­vices in­fra­struc­ture. This ad­dresses very re­mote ar­eas of this coun­try. We are now sit­ting around 85 per­cent cov­er­age of the coun­try de­spite the dif­fi­cult ter­rain of Le­sotho. In two years’ time we would be able to have a 100 per­cent cov­er­age.

The fact that we have wit­nessed a very good growth in the take-up of mo­bile ser­vices through­out the coun­try that al­most ev­ery­one, at least in Maseru, has a mo­bile phone, we are sit­ting now at a tele­den­sity of 124 per­cent as at end of March 2015. The mo­ment you go be­yond 100 per­cent shows that there peo­ple who have even more than one mo­bile phones, which is a re­al­ity.

And it is worth not­ing that we have started around one per­cent tele­den­sity, so this is quite an achieve­ment. The other chal­lenge we have ahead of us is how we drive up­take of in­ter­net ser­vices and broad­band. That is the big­gest chal­lenge that face, and we have to come up with a num­ber of ini­tia­tives to en­sure that we pro­mote broad­band in the coun­try.

To con­clude, we are pleased that the gov­ern­ment also gave LCA its space to func­tion as an in­de­pen­dent reg­u­la­tor. That is some­thing that we shouldn’t take lightly.

LCA CEO Mone­hela Posholi.

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