By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Although Botswana is leading in terms of telecommunications reform, Namibia could go further if it resolves political issues and passes the new Telecommunications Bill that establishes the regulator for the entire ICT sector. Botswana liberalised its telecommunications sector in June this year, something that will increase competition between existing players. The Namibia Economic Policy Research Unit (Nepru) says in its policy brief that liberalising Namibia’s telecommunications sector and establishing a single regulator for the communications and broadcasting sectors would open up new business opportunities and generate growth and employment. “By a fortunate confluence of events, Namibia has the potential to surpass its neighbours and create a competitive ICT sector, thereby stimulating economic growth, employment creation and social inclusion,” Dr Christopher Stork, Nepru Senior Researcher said. The brief entitled “Telecommunication sector reform for development”, compiled by Stork says Namibia should follow suit, failure of which will result in it falling more behind. Namibia falls behind its neighbour in the number of mobile operators, international data gateway licenses, mobile subscribers, fixed teledensity, the number of fixed lines and fixed lines per square km among others. Stork said in the brief to embark on liberalization, the country should follow three steps, namely resolving political issues, passing the new Telecommunications Bill that establishes a single regulator for the entire ICT sector, and strengthening the new regulator. Stork said experience worldwide suggests that competition combined with effective regulation leads to lower prices and to offering better services for consumers. But at present, an effective and enabling regulatory and policy environment is lacking in Namibia because two ministries, Information and Broadcasting and Works, Transport and Communication are involved. While MIB is responsible for the Namibia Communications Commission under whose jurisdiction the MTC falls, the Works Ministry is responsible for the Namibia Posts and Telecom Holdings, which owns Telecom and is a majority shareholder in MTC. Stork said although there have been delays in passing the Telecommunications Bill, the country could use this delay to leapfrog the learning curve of other countries by directly implementing the “Next generation Regulations”. The proposed telecommunications bill allows the Communications Authority of Namibia to implement such New Generation Regulations and with the awarding of a new mobile license earlier this year, Stork says, it is important to establish the CAN because without it liberalization may not lead to increased competition, lower telecommunications costs and higher teledensity. The third, according to Stock, would be to strengthen the regulator body with more authority and skilled personnel. The commission has seven members of staff compared to 67 at Botswana Telecommunications Authority. Considering that the liberalisation would bring new responsibilities and challenges to the regulator, Stork said, the CAN would need multi disciplinary staff. To have a competitive ICT sector, there is need to lift restrictions on VOIP as it could reduce the telecommunication costs, while mobile operators such as MTC and Powercom would build their own fixed line infrastructure and establish their own international gateways and thereby increase the competition between the mobile service providers and the ground phone providers. According to Nepru, the proposed liberalisation schedule for Namibia is to have a new Telecommunications Bill establishing CAN by September 2006, establishment of a Universal Service Fund by October 1, 2006, lifting restrictions on the provision of VOIP by value added network service providers and mobile operators providing for themselves, liberalising international voice gateways and international data gateway and introducing number portability by January 1, 2007.