TBY talks to John S. Nkoma, Director General at Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), on improved regulations, the importance of sharing knowledge, and challenges in the ICT sector.

Tanzania's mobile market is growing at an incredible rate. What role has the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) played in facilitating that growth?

The growth has been exponential. Right now, there are about 27 million SIM cards in the market. Yet, back in 2000, there were 284,000 and in 2004 there a mere 2 million. The regulatory framework has made this possible by allowing competition, which has played a great role in growth. We have over five active operators, including Vodacom, Airtel, Tigo, ZANTEL, and TTCL Mobile, as well as Sasatel and Benson Informatics. Competition is crucial and cannot thrive without a strong regulatory framework. Our framework is highly conducive to encouraging competition and our regulations highly detailed in terms of quality of service, consumer protection, and tariffs, amongst other considerations. I should also mention our licensing framework: the Converged Licensing Framework, which is technology and service neutral. There are four licenses; the first is the highly detailed Network Facility License for construction of communication infrastructure, be it wireless, fiber optics, towers, or other. There have recently been several major developments in this area, such as the landing of submarine cables in Dar es Salaam. Second, there is the Network Services License for the provision of voice, video, and data services. Third, there is the Application Services License, which is open-ended and includes internet provision, mobile banking, and other applications. Fourth, there is the Content Service License, which concerns radio and television, with digital broadcasting being the key focus in this area today. ICT policies have also been instrumental in growth in recent years.

How, as a regulator, do you structure a framework conducive to new innovation?

The Application Service License is deliberately very open-ended. If an operator comes to us with a new value added service or product, we do not require separate licenses, but merely an additional appendix to an existing one. In 2004, it was impossible to browse the internet on your mobile phone here. However, in 2005 we introduced a converged licensing framework, which included several types of license. In terms of financial transactions,  for example, institutions require central bank authorization, but in using the communications network they obtain authorization from the TCRA through application services licenses.

“ICT policies have also been instrumental in growth in recent years."

Regulation-wise, how does Tanzania compare to its neighbors?

The converged licensing framework was introduced in 2005, and many countries in the region have adopted the idea in other licensing frameworks.

In terms of the goals for Tanzania's Development (Vision 2025), how do you plan to foster a greater level of technology, innovation, and competition?

Our people have identified priorities such as agriculture, education, health, water, and transport among others. However, the issue in the ICT sector is crosscutting. In education, students can use ICT to facilitate learning. In health, telemedicine is set to gain importance thanks to its capacity to, say, enable a doctor to remotely direct an operation. In agriculture, it is also important, as it allows farmers to learn the price of goods electronically, and much more. There are priorities, but ICT has a crucial crosscutting role.

What challenges does the ICT sector face?

An example is cyber-security, which is a global dilemma. The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) will be a unit dedicated to tackling cyber threats to all major stakeholders, such as mobile companies, banks, the police, and critical infrastructure including energy, water, transport, and so on. Another challenge is to combat the misuse of ICT, an example being individuals or companies generating unwanted SMS messages. To deal with this, we are introducing SIM registration. We also need to be more vigilant in content regulation for radio and television. There is a need for balance between freedom of speech, privacy, and security. The internet is a good tool that can be used in education and many other fields, but one that can also be misused. This is true for all ICTs, and there is need to promote peaceful uses for social and economic development.

© The Business Year - January 2014