PUSHING THROUGH

Tanzania 2015 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks with Prof. John S. Nkoma, Director General of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), on expanding services in the country, developing innovation, and increasing ICT penetration.

Prof. John S. Nkoma
BIOGRAPHY
Prof. John S. Nkoma received his MSc and PhD degrees in Physics from the University of Essex, and was a member of the Physics Department at the University of Dar es Salaam from 1971 to 1981, and held the chair of the department from 1979 to 1981. He has been with the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) since 2004.

Tanzania is ahead of the curve compared with most African countries in terms of the liberalization of the ICT market. How has this liberalization translated into greater economic efficiency in the overall economy of Tanzania?

There has been considerable growth in the communications sector, which can be attributed to the attractive legal and regulatory environment, which enables businesses to run and operate far more efficiently overall.

What kind of regulatory reform do you think is needed to increase the level of innovation in the country?

The strength of our framework is that it is long term and designed to absorb future developments and trends in the ICT sector. We introduced this framework in 2005, but at that time when we were talking about infrastructure people were thinking mainly about the wireless infrastructure. Our infrastructure was technology-neutral, whereby it did not matter whether it was wireless, fiber, submarine, or digital in nature. This is why the same framework serves numerous uses. The Application Services License is open ended, and has proven useful in both financial services and mobile banking applications.

Have other countries approached you regarding this model?

We receive many visitors, and also participate in a number of regional and international bodies. We are members of the East African Communications Organization (EACO) along with Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda. In the EACO, there is a firm tradition of countries sharing knowledge with each other. Southern African countries have the Communication Regulators Association of Southern Africa (CRASA), in which there is a similar exchange of ideas and experiences. The ICT sector features global, continental, and regional organizations. We have held meetings with global companies too, such as ITU Telecoms, based in Switzerland, and also with XO Communications, a satellite communications company based in the US. There is always much to learn from such meetings and conferences, which help a company figure out how to adapt to fit the local environment. You have to do so in order to expand your horizons, while remaining on top of global developments and developing your own capabilities.

What factors would you say are unique to Tanzania's ICT sector?

In terms of financial and mobile services, people in the West with credit and debit cards, for example, have no real need for such services. Here, credit card penetration is low, and so is the number of people holding debit cards. Meanwhile, in terms of mobile communications, we have 28 million SIM card subscribers. By leveraging communications and banking you better serve these people.

What challenges remain for the sector?

Cyber security is a challenge, whether for mobile networks or the internet. Another challenge is the misuse of ICT, be it for negative publicity, pornography, or abusive or derogatory material. One way we are planning to counter this is through the establishment of the Computer Emergency Response Team Regulations (TZ-CERT), which will specifically deal with the issue of cyber security. The TCRA would be the focal point through which we connect all the key structures, such as e-government offices, mobile companies, and banks to mitigate cyber threats. TZ-CERT has been established to deal specifically with such threats. It connects us with the global community, and we will receive warning of suspicious activity or possible threats from foreign agencies, which will then alert TZ-CERT.

What efforts are you undertaking for greater nationwide access to ICT, including rural areas?

This is another challenge. We have to ensure our communications services cover rural areas as well. We do this in two ways: first, we monitor our license rollout plans, and secondly, our government has established a special institution for this, known as the Universal Communications Services Access Fund. Its main role is to ensure that communications services reach rural areas. The program is still slow, but we will see in the coming years how this goes.

Do you think there is room for more competition?

The lack of room for other competitors is mainly due to the lack of necessary resources to enter this sector; however, it is a dynamic sector. Most countries have three or four competitors, but we have five, which I consider healthy.

What objectives do you hope to achieve in the short term?

We need stronger enforcement of regulations to ensure a high quality of service in the communications matrix, for consumer rights, and to reduce tariffs. Broadcasting has become digitized, which is a significant development for Tanzania. We have already licensed three digital signal disputers, which are already in place. Dar es Salaam switched off in December 31, 2012, followed by Dodoma and Tanga, and then Mosherusha and Mwaza. That was Phase I. In Phase II, we switched off Dobora, Singida, Bukoba, and Musoma. By the end of 2014, we hope Tanzania will be completely digitized. It has taken two years because we wanted to make sure our legal and regulatory framework was correct, and we also wanted to consult the stakeholders, the business community, the public, and politicians. We had to convince everyone that digitization was about socio-economic development.

Where do you think the ICT sector is headed in Tanzania?

The future is still bright, and Tanzania has only a 60% penetration rate for telecommunications. There is a lot of potential for growth. In terms of infrastructure, we are laying submarine cables for Dar es Salaam, and then we have the national ICT infrastructure project. Our regional headquarters is connected, so our focus is now on connecting the more rural parts of the country. In digital broadcasting, the major channel will be local content. In terms of internet growth, we need to bring many government services to the web and to mobile devices as well, so we are going to expand our e-government services. In the postal segment, we are changing all the post office boxes into physical addresses.