Three southern African countries are pushing for parliamentary bills that seek to provide unified licenses for diverse telecommunication operations including mobile telephony, Internet and broadcasting services.
Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia are all taking bills to parliament for approval to start providing unified telecom licenses in order to attract international investment in the telecom sector.
The three countries would join other African nations including Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda in providing one license for an array of services in order to attract international service providers who had feared to invest because of restrictive license conditions.
George Tapfumanei, communications officer for the African Agency for ICT Development, told Computerworld Zambia this week that the provision of a unified license by the three countries will result in increased investment in the ICT sector and boost communications.
Namibian Minister of Information and Communication Technology Joe Kapaanda tabled a bill in parliament last week.
Many African countries are now focusing on the provision of data, Internet backbone and video conferencing in addition to voice services to boost telecom in the region through harmonization of license procedures.
"International telecom investors are always scared to invest in a country that has restrictive license conditions, hence unified licenses by southern African countries will attract more investors in the telecom sector," said Tapfumanei via telephone.
Tapfumanei said unified licenses will also promote competition in the sector. The move by the countries to introduce unified licenses follows years of pressure by service providers to issue licenses that would allow them to provide multiple services including 3G.
The bills would drop the multilicensing regime, where services are grouped on the basis of technology. ISPs, for example, were formerly required to obtain separate licenses to offer voice over Internet protocol (VoIP).
In Zambia, VoIP is still considered illegal and the international gateway is still regulated by the government. Under the new bills, however, operators would be licensed under three groupings: application service providers, network facilities providers and content service providers.
In Namibia, the bill would compel all service providers who are dominant to make their infrastructure available at rates that are just, reasonable and nondiscriminatory.
The Namibian government also wants the quality of interconnection to be at least equal to that provided by the carrier within its network. To protect customers from exploitation, the bill limits the powers of service providers to hike tariffs exorbitantly.
Zimbabwe is trying to regain its position of being the second-fastest growing ICT sector in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) outside South Africa.
Zambia and Zimbabwe are also trying to deregulate their international gateways in order to promote investment in the telecom sector.
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