Incoming gov't puts breaks on implementation of NCA’s 4G policies

The telecoms regulator, National Communication Authority (NCA), has been asked to discontinue the implementation of some new policies in the 4G space, Adom News sources reveal.

The NCA board and management had earlier met with the four Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) license holders, namely Surfline, Blu, Goldkey and Broadband Home on Tuesday, January 3, 2017, to discuss their license conditions and localisation among other things.

The meeting focused on major issues regarding the 4G space, which issues were gearing up for immediate implementation, however, on Thursday, January 5, 2017, the transition team of the incoming government contacted the NCA Board and stopped them from going ahead to implement any of the issues agreed on.

Some of the participants at the meeting suspect that either some NCA board members or some management team members opposed to the decisions agreed upon at that meeting contacted power brokers in the transition team to stop the implementation.

Issues discussed

Meanwhile, Adom News can confirm that discussions at that meeting were, in the main, around allowing BWAs to offer voice services soon, by reducing the initial 203 district capitals they had to cover before going voice to just 50 district capitals.

They also discussed how MTN can dispose of its 35% shares after acquiring a 4G license.

That particular issue centred around a proposal for MTN to buy out Goldkey’s BWA spectrum, and in exchange, allow the latter to own shares in MTN.

The confusion in that deal is that Goldkey’s license allows a foreign entity, like MTN to only own 70% and not 100%, so it was still not clear how a complete buyout would look like in the face of the licensing requirement.

Busy Ghana

Busy Ghana is an authorised (not licensed) 4G player but they were not invited to the meeting because industry players have always raised an issue about a fundamental defect in their status.

Busy Ghana neither paid the required $6million like the BWAs did, nor did they pay $67.5million like MTN did for a proper license, but have been authorised to operate 4G.

The meeting also discussed Busy Ghana’s status with some participants suggesting that Busy Ghana should be made to pay same annual fees as the BWAs in order to continue operating as a 4G player.

4G partnerships

There were discussions about a 4G partnership proposal between Vodafone and Surfline and a 4G wholesale deal between Tigo and Comsys, but those were stalled because the NCA’s position was that currently there are no policies and regulatory framework for such partnership and wholesale deals.

Vodafone and Surfline are seeking to partner, with Vodafone providing the platform to expand 4G coverage, while Surfline provides capacity for Vodafone to improve service in areas with high density, but the NCA stopped it for lack of regulations.

Tigo also made enquiries about wholesaling for Comsys in the 4G space but that was also stopped for similar reasons.

BWAs disappointed

But the BWAs are most disappointed because they were happy about the prospect of starting voice services soon to at least shore up their revenue and stake their claim as leaders in the data space, but the move by the transition team has scuttled their plans.

The CEO of one of the BWAs is hopeful that this breaks on the NCA from implementing the new BWA policies would be short lived because the BWAs expect the incoming administration to see the wisdom in giving them some relief to grow and make the expected impact.

They maintain that, but for the 800MHz spectrum sold to MTN, the BWAs would have, in a few years, risen fast to the top of the data market and helped to improve the lives of Ghanaians in a significant way.

Indeed, the last NCA report on data traffic within the entire telecom industry indicated that Surfline, for instance, is moving more data than Glo and Tigo combined, while Broadband Home is moving more data than Glo.

Outstanding issues

Meanwhile, some other related issues that the NCA, under the incoming government, would be expected to deal with, would include what to do with the second slot of the 800MHz 4G spectrum that was left after MTN bought one for a whopping $67.5million.

The issue of Expresso has also become an albatross on the industry because till date it is still not clear if the Sudanese owners, Sudatel have sold all the shares in the company or it is still the case that some secret buyer has paid only $5million into an escrow account for 18% of the company.

The company is dying gradually and workers have not been paid salaries for months now, according to reports.

 The regulator would be expected to act more decisively in the interest of the country.

Glo has also been falling headlong for more than a year now and it lost coverage in several communities across the country after boasting of over 90% coverage at its launch. The regulator may have to look at what is going on there and ensure Ghana got value for money on the national resource given to Glo.

The next four years also promises to produce some mergers, acquisitions and partnership within the telecom industry. Already, there have been rumours French telecom giant Orange is coming in to acquire two telcos in Ghana and merge them under the Orange brand.

The NCA must, therefore, be quick with the regulatory frameworks regarding the partnership, mergers and acquisitions within the industry.

It would also be interesting to see what the NCA, under the new administration, would do with the Interconnect Clearinghouse (ICH), as some NPP MPs were in vehement opposition to the ICH while they were in opposition.

In all these, care must be taken not to do anything to incur a judgment debt for the state unnecessarily.

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