The digital revolution spreading across Africa has found a home in Côte d’Ivoire. With its days of political paralysis now in the past, the government revamped oversight of the ICT sector, forming new regulatory bodies to facilitate commerce. As part of this plan, the Autorité de Régulation des Télécommunications de Côte d’Ivoire (ARTCI
) has replaced two predecessor organisations, and has been given financial autonomy and independent administrative authority.
ARTCI will be at the centre of the government’s plan to grow the digital economy and extend top-quality services to millions of Ivoirians. “The telecoms sector has made huge strides over the years. We found that this new environment required a different approach,” explains CEO Diéméléou Bilé.
“First, we put into place a stronger legal framework with a new structure. Our first mission is regulating. It’s an industry with six mobile providers, with about 20 million subscribers and significant revenues. We ensure that there is fair and honest competition.”
|“We try to organise ourselves so that there is a healthy business climate. Accordingly, users will make smart choices”|
Diéméléou Bilé, CEO of ARTCI
One of the country’s strong points is its cellular market. In 2003, Côte d’Ivoire had just over seven mobile subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, according to World Bank figures. In less than a decade, this number exploded to more than 96 out of 100. “Today we see the industry evolving,” Mr Bilé says, “because the providers have been doing great business.”
While mobile technology has taken off, the internet in Côte d’Ivoire needs significant investment in order to reach the same level of widespread adoption, and there also exists a gap in the services available to residents in rural areas of the country. “We must not forget the liberalisation of the internet,” Mr Bilé cautions.
He stresses the government’s role in maintaining order. “The environment has really changed. Now, we’re able to talk about the internet and we’re able to fight against cyber-crime. We’re looking at mobile transactions. Users are no longer in a world without laws.”
In all its activities, ARTCI stresses consumer protection. “We try to organise ourselves so that there is a healthy business climate. Accordingly, users will make smart choices. And by doing business, we see the economy progress,” Mr Bilé says. Policymakers are looking to promote growth across the economy, not just in the traditionally technologically intensive areas. “When we talk about ICT,” says ARTCI’s CEO, “these are the tools utilised in all activities. ICT is present in all active industries. You go into trade, education, health. ICT allows you to boost up and move forward.”
As part of this drive, he wants to see more multinational firms enter the market, particularly from the UK. “Côte d’Ivoire is a country opened to the world. The economy is liberalised and it’s the provider who chooses. Each must have the ability to sell its approach. I know that Great Britain possesses very solid technology. Its presence here would promote a huge transformation.”
|“What we want is to go deep in ICT. This means access to the internet for people who are outside major towns” |
Siaka Koné, CEO of AIGF
Another critical aspect of Cote d’Ivoire’s digital economy is the governance of its radio spectrum, a hugely important area particularly in the development of mobile internet. The newly formed Agence Ivoirienne de Gestion des Fréquences Radioélectriques (AIGF
) ensures compliance with international norms, creating an orderly environment to facilitate growth. “When a provider enters the market in your country and you give him a licence to operate and the required frequencies, they will want to invest and turn a profit, because you left a good impression from the very start,” says CEO Siaka Koné.
“It is about confidence. Our role is to do business in a transparent and professional manner. Every country has the same amount of spectrum, whether it be the US or the UK. We must organise things so that all parties have what they require to evolve socially, economically and above all securely,” Mr Koné adds.
Protecting the public’s health, addressing compatibility issues between providers and maintaining a secure environment for government and private frequencies all fall under the jurisdiction of the AIGF. So does the mission of spreading technology among the highest number of consumers possible.
“What we want is to go deep in ICT. This means access to the internet for people who are outside major towns. We have so much to do,” Mr Koné explains. And while the industry has developed quickly, he says the AIGF must improve services such as 3G and 4G bands by encouraging private investment, particularly from UK firms. He admits there are still many areas to improve, but adds: “Anything is possible if there is the will.”