Sierra Leone’s NATCOM is breaking bold new ground

Anthony Kamara Jnr.

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 May 2013

Siray TimboThe chairman of Sierra Leone’s National Telecommunication Commission (NATCOM) – Siray A. Timbo, was recently lauded in Istanbul, Turkey, for the bold steps he is taking in addressing the country’s ICT regulation challenges.

Mr. Timbo (Photo) was attending the 8th International Electronic Communications Regulators Conference, where he was commended for his “unwavering commitment to integrity”, as he continues to lead the Commission.

The conference “ICT Today – and Beyond” brought together representatives of European, Asian, American and African ministries, agencies and institutions responsible for the functioning and development of the telecommunications industry.

Delivering his keynote address, Ambassador Michael R. Gardner, founder and chairman of the United States Telecommunications Training Institute (USTTI), warned regulators to be “credible, flexible and transparent”.

He said that “service providers, potential foreign investors, equipment vendors of new ICT applications” must have clear knowledge of what the regulators’ rules are and confidence in the regulators commitment to enforce these rules that are needed to protect consumers.

“A good example of a regulator’s unwavering commitment to the integrity of its light-touch regulations took place in Sierra Leone, where Chairman Siray Timbo of NATCOM – the ICT regulator, had the courage to levy a $50,000 fine against a powerful international wireless operator, who had increased phone tariffs without gaining prior regulatory approval.

“The wireless operator in question was stunned and soon realized that the regulator was a real source of economic pain after the Sierra Leone’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of NATCOM — and the regulator’s fine was upheld,” said Ambassador Gardner.

natcom2Noting that the world in which we live is experiencing a “transformational shift to an IP based global ICT world,” he said that this new shift will “render switched technology useless and has already allowed for a spectacular mobile cellular penetration, with 6.8 billion subscribers gaining access to internet.”

However, the mobile cellular penetration rate in the developing world still lags considerably behind, when compared to the developed world where 70.1% of citizens are on-line  compared to 24.4% in developing nations.

According to the ITU’s Facts and Figures for 2013, by the end of 2011, 2.3 billion people were on-line.

Radio_listener_in_Sierra_LeoneGiven that there is still a significant percentage of people without access to internet around the world, Mr. Gardner stressed that “the fundamental challenge of connecting the unconnected” requires concerted efforts and must be addressed head on.

“The spectrum belongs to the people just like the air we breathe and the water we drink, the decision makers in each country are trustees of their country’s spectrum and must use this great resource in the most efficient and creative way,” he said.

To ensure that a robust, free and accessible Internet is available everywhere, including in the Least Developing Countries (LDCs), Mr. Garner stressed that ICT regulators must play a pivotal role, “by promoting competition, encouraging innovators and convince foreign investors that they are committing resources to stable, corruption-free ICT environment.”

He further noted that the new IP must be regulated differently by ensuring that “the old legacy regulations of the circuit switched world” give way to light-touch regulations.

For participants from Africa, Mr. Gardner noted that Kenya has become the hub in East Africa for vigorous ICT innovation – which is producing vast economic dividends and social benefits for the good people of Kenya.

“Kenya is now a vibrant source of home grown Internet innovation.” However, Kenya’s spectacular success didn’t happen by accident, he cautioned. Their success is the result of “politicians and regulators adopting a policy that made ICT a top priority for use in every phase of the country’s economy.”

Kenya’s officials, he said, “followed an Open Multi-Stakeholder Internet Governance Model”; one which did not allow internet policy to be dominated by government officials, but involves the broader community of Internet advocates to work together as partners with government to nurture a robust Internet in Kenya.

Mr. Gardner also challenged regulators to learn from proven success stories around the globe and advised against interference.

natcom3“You must take informed actions like permitting unlicensed spectrum such as broadcasters’ white spaces to be used for broadband, while simultaneously guaranteeing that lawfully issued licensees do not suffer from harmful interference.”

Calling on politicians, ICT Ministers and their fellow ICT regulators, Mr. Gardner challenged all to “aggressively use the tools that can improve the ICT landscape,” by working with ISPs, academia and those organizations interested in the Internet.

natcom1“You must adhere strictly to best IXP practices, for they help consumers reap immense benefits by reducing internet costs, provide a more user friendly, latency reduced internet and most importantly develop local content, which is key to economic development and jobs.”

For Ambassador Gardner, one thing is certain about the future: “We will continue to live in an exciting IP world, where additional spectrum must be creatively allocated to handle the enormous volumes of data that will be exchanged every minute of every day.”

However, this is only possible if regulators do the right thing to ensure that we live in a world where pervasive cloud computing and abundant locally produced content, are commonplace around the globe.

“It will be a world where ICT regulators shape their country’s future, and if they have the vision and courage to use the people’s spectrum in an efficient and creative fashion, the new global ICT marketplace of the 21st century will insure that everyone – everyone – has access to a broadband based free and open Internet,” said Mr. Gardner.


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