Feature: Liberalization of Ghana's Telecom Sector

A look at the positives and the negatives Introduction Telecommunications facilities are important to a school pupil just as it is to the tomato seller or a business tycoon. The uses and importance to business people cannot be overemphasized but Devine Ocloo, an 11-year old primary six pupil finds it necessary to speak with his mom when the need arises while the market woman can attest to increased sales via the mobile telephone. "My mom bought it for me so I can talk with her anytime she is away from me and whenever I need something at school," says Devine when questioned why he sends mobile phone to school. And Emelia Mensah a trader in fresh tomatoes says, "with my cell phone, I do not wait for my customers to come to me. I sometimes call to supply them tomatoes at their door steps. In fact, now I do not supply only to their respective homes, but also to their offices especially on Fridays." Emelia currently owns three handsets from different operators because her customers use other networks thus improving connectivity, reducing charges, benefitting from promotions and increasing sales. Divine and Emelia's stories are just but a few and emphasizes the importance of telecommunications to socio-economic development globally and most especially to Ghana as the country strives to meet the Millennium Development Goal targets by 2015. Ghana has been at the forefront of the ICT revolution in Africa for almost two decades. Liberalization basic telecommunication services in August 1994, the country took an important step to embrace the potential of competition to generate growth and innovation in the sector. To build on this foundation and make the country a knowledge-based information society, the government, consistent with its ICT policy acknowledged the need to integrate Ghana with the emerging economic order where information and knowledge are fundamental to achieving competitiveness, investment, development of human capacity and good governance. The basis is that through appropriate use of ICTs in an open, participatory and facilitating environment, Ghana would create wealth and prosperity. To help realize these objectives, the national telecommunication infrastructure must be developed and promoted in an open and competitive environment. The country's National Communication Policy, therefore, defines the framework within which telecommunication will evolve. Today, Ghana has recorded an impressive performance in the telecoms market but with mobile phone lines exceeding fixed lines by 40:1 and recording one of the highest number of mobile phone usage in Africa. With a combined tele-density of more than 50, further potential exists for basic voice and broadband data services (2009 Ghana Telecom market statistics and forecast). Background to the Liberalization Telecommunications is one of the aspects of a wider trend of technological and market convergence and encompasses broadcasting, information technology and electronic commerce. Liberalization of the sector in Ghana began in the early part of the 1990s to provide consumers with better, new and less costly services. Emerging as one of the first countries to lead the way in liberalization and deregulation in Africa, Ghana encouraged and promoted private sector participation. The effort was to complement activities of the then Ghana Posts and Telecommunications, which had monopoly power, increase coverage, introduce value-added telecoms services and increase the subscribers' access to terminal equipment. Ghana launched the Accelerated Development Plan (ADP) for telecommunications which became a blue print for liberalization to ensure sustained improvement in the availability, reliability and quality of public services; improve public access in rural and urban areas to telecoms services through the provision of payphone facility; expand the coverage of mobile phones; and enhance Ghana's competitive advantage in the region through provision of high-quality communication services to the business community. The ADP adopted strategies which included privatization of Ghana Telecoms (Ghana Post and Telecommunication Corporation); creation of a competitive duopoly by licensing a second national network operator (Westel) with similar rights and obligations as Ghana Telecoms; data transmission, paging and payphones; and the establishment of a regulatory agency for the sector. This gave credence to the broad national policy of Ghana becoming the "gateway" to West Africa. In 2002, the government began an ICT policy, known as the Information and Communication Technology for Accelerated Development (ICT4AD) to further enhance the liberalization process. It pursued an ICT-driven socio-economic development policy and plan for the developmental effort and also to facilitate the process to become a knowledge-based information society and economy in the shortest possible time. Priority areas of the ICT4AD Policy included: Human Resource Development, Education, Governance, Private Sector Development, ICT Products and Services, Industry Development, Agriculture and Agro-Business, ICT Community buy-in, National Health and Research. Penetration of services Ghana has witnessed improvement in the penetration of telecoms services due to liberalization and the ADP framework which encouraged the establishment of private networks and saw large corporate organizations setting their own networks. The Volta River Authority, the nation's flagship energy producer for instance, set up its own network to promote effective communication between sub-systems. The regulatory agency, the NCA, backed by Act 524, 1996 has had its ups and downs but has largely promoted competition through the regulation of wire, cable, radio, television, satellite and similar means of technology for orderly development and operation of efficient communication services in Ghana. The NCA achieved this feat through set objectives which include protecting operators and consumers from unfair conduct by other operators with regard to quality of communication services and payment of tariffs in respect of the services. The NCA also grants licenses, assign, allocate and regulate the use of frequencies in conformity with international standards; provision of guidelines on tariffs and advising on policy formulation and development strategies for the communication industry. INFRASTRUCTURE Telecommunications services available in Ghana include voice fixed telephony, mobile cellular, data, paging, private networks and other value-added services. There currently exist a new submarine fibre optic cable tapped from the Voltacom in addition to Vodafone's SAT3 and most recently the landing of Glo's submarine cable. Two more fibre optic facilities will be added to the existing ones very soon and these will help create competition and do away with the current monopoly provider of international bandwidth by Vodafone Ghana and support the ongoing convergence of technologies. Fixed Network Statistics released this year show that as at December 2008, the country's total fixed lines in service were 279,000 while fixed line teledensity was 1.2 share sale of Ghana Telecom to Vodafone UK in 2008, which attracted a highly competitive bidding, showed the huge potential of the market. With an accelerated growth pace in market penetration, opportunity continues to exist in the provision of basic voice services as well as Internet access through the mobile networks, given the country's poorly developed fixed-line infrastructure. Liberalisation has made mobile phones very attractive to many Ghanaians who want to enjoy flexibility in communication. The country ended January 2009 with an active subscriber base of 11.96 million. The statistics, issued by NCA, revealed that the number of mobile subscription grew by 16.8 of the total subscriber base, followed by Tigo with a subscriber base of 2.8 million or 23 of the total base. Zain Ghana, which launched operations in November 2008, ended January 2009 with 463,824, leaving Kasapa behind with 386,732 subscribers. Glo Ghana is yet to begin operations. NCA statistics further reveal that the mobile penetration in Ghana reached 98.