Parliamentary Committee on Works, Transport and Communications heard this week that state broadcaster Botswana Television (BTV) has rejected recommendations from Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) to share its idle infrastructure with the private sector and other players.
The recommendation came as an effort to catapult the broadcasting industry especially; film and television to another level, given its potential in creating jobs and bringing diversity in news. However, MPs heard that the idea has not been welcomed by the mass media leadership despite most of their infrastructure lying idle without use. BOCRA has stated in the past that sharing infrastructure has the potential to create favourable conditions for attracting investment that leads to growth and a competitive sector. From the regulatory perspective, sharing enables operators to survive and compete; opportunity for equal access to all is being created which in a way encourages entry into the market without unnecessary duplication of networks.
The committee was also told that RB2 which is a commercial wing of Radio Botswana is not regulated by BOCRA because the new Regulatory Act does not provide for regulation of state owned entities. BOCRA was established through the Communications Regulatory Authority Act, 2012 (CRA Act) on the 1st of April 2013 to regulate the communications sector in Botswana, comprising telecommunications, Internet and Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), radio communications, broadcasting, postal services and related matters.
The CRA Act replaced the Broadcasting Act [Cap 72:04], the Telecommunications Act [Cap 72:03], and caused the amendment of the Postal Services Act to create a converged or an integrated regulatory authority for the communications industry.
Infrastructure sharing is becoming common worldwide both in telecommunication and broadcasting. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRIA), an equivalent of Botswana’s BOCRA, recently issued a recommendation to government to encourage infrastructure sharing in the country’s television broadcasting distribution centre.
Infrastructure sharing is encouraged as long as it is technically permissible. In this arrangement the responsibility of compliance lies with each distributor of TV channels independently. Currently there are two television stations operating with four other companies having been given licences this year. Botswana television was launched in 2000 as the first major television service in the country. The station broadcasts on both satellite and terrestrial infrastructure while e-Botswana provides a limited television service around Gaborone on a terrestrial free to air service.
In 2007, three new nationwide radio broadcasting licenses were issued resulting in Yarona and GABZ FM extending their services outside Gaborone and the introduction of a new radio station, being DUMA FM. Previously, Yarona FM and Gabz FM were licensed to broadcast in a radius of 50km around Gaborone. In an effort to minimise the cost of infrastructure development, the three services formed a transmission company, known as Kemonokeng, which is responsible for providing transmission for all of them. This thus formed the basis for infrastructure sharing on a limited basis.
Dr Phenyo Butale, a committee member and former Mass Media employee expressed concern with unfair practices by Mass Media as far as broadcasting is concerned. He said while BTV and RB2 are not regulated by BOCRA because they are state broadcasters the two entities still engage in commercial activities to compete with private players. He said this is worrisome because the same Mass Media is not willing to share its infrastructure as per recommendation by BOCRA but wants to enjoy the commercial benefits without being regulated.
BOCRA Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Tshoganetso Kepaletswe who appeared before the committee with Acting Deputy Chief Executive, Martin Mokgware conceded the verity that RB2 is a commercial entity under state media and that restricts them from regulating it. “Until such a time the Act is changed by parliament, we are compelled to implement what is in the current Act,” he said. Kepaletswe also agreed that the new Act only recognises commercial and state broadcasters, leaving out community radio stations which were provided for in the repealed Botswana Telecommunication Authority (BOTA).