In providing an efficient telecommunications services, the independent regulatory authority also plays a key role in widening access to the country’s expanding telecoms services and safeguarding consumers’ rights.
“The BTA encourages operators to go into rural areas,” says Tshoganetso Kepaletswe, deputy chief executive officer of the BTA. “It is a competitive market. Fixed-line penetration in Botswana used to be very low, so the mobile phone became the only means of communication. We now need to put the tools and regulations in place to encourage Internet penetration. But there are some limitations, which is why we have to try to encourage fixed-line penetration. This is a vast country, and sometimes it is not economically feasible to extend the network to certain areas because of the amount required and a smaller population. However with regional integration sometimes you can leverage benefit from that.”
Increasing broadband penetration means greater opportunities for the private sector to get involved, via public-private partnerships. “As a government, we may have to intervene by subsidizing operators,” says Mr. Kepaletswe. “We will have to seek tenders; this is what most countries are doing. This is also where the government and private sector have to work together to ensure that broadband penetration increases.”
The BTA is currently overseeing Botswana’s connection to the East African Submarine System (EASSy) and West African Cable System (WACS), as well as the rolling out of digital TV by 2015. “It is not only about providing access: after providing access the right content and applications have to be available,” says Mr. Kepaletswe. “I want to be in a situation where each and every business will be connected to the highest bandwidth with no limitations. The residential customers should be connected to the best broadband speed they can get. As a country we have the potential to develop programs with very good content. I think as a country we can leapfrog most countries.”