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Communication breakdown?


Communication breakdown?

Not with Lesotho Communications Authority Editorial: Tim Hands Production: Chris Bolderstone

The development of communications across the spectrum in Lesotho is a primary concern of the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA), a statutory body established in June 2000 with a mandate to ensure that communications are effectively handled for the whole of its population. Monehela Posholi, Chief Executive of the Authority, details some of its key responsibilities and the projects which are constantly pushing forward telecommunications across the country.

The LCA has a varied and extensive mandate surrounding the work it undertakes in regulating the communications sector in Lesotho. Formerly known as Lesotho Telecommunications Authority (LTA), the statutory body as it is today was established in June of 2000 and regulates some of the most vital aspects of the communication sector in the country. Whether granting licences to operators, approving tariffs, managing the radio frequency spectrum or protecting the customers it serves, this mandate encompasses the majority of the key elements of the Communication Act, all of which are managed and overseen by LCA on behalf of the country’s population, now numbering more than two million. Perhaps the most important aspect of this mandate

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is LCA’s responsibility to promote fair competition, something that its tireless work to improve connectivity in rural areas is helping to engender. “We have the two licensed network operators in the country,” explains Chief Executive, Monehela Posholi, “and we have to look at whether this two-heavy, duopoly situation that we have is adequate. We’re really pleased therefore that these two operators have been introducing new products into the market and the costs have been constantly coming down, and noting the healthy competition this brings about.” The aspects of LCA’s mandate contain several key, recurrent elements and represent an authority committed to the most effective provision of telecommunications possible. High on its list of priorities is the promotion and development of its offering of efficient local, national, regional and

Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA)

international telecommunication services in Lesotho, while ensuring that all reasonable steps are taken to promote network development, universal service and access to telecommunication service. These commitments highlight its efforts to ensure a universal exposure to the very latest in the ever-developing world of telecommunications, always promoting the range and quality of these services in the interests of its consumers. As well as taking such detailed care of the consumers who benefit daily from its provisions, LCA also finds itself in charge of the regulation of much of the dealings within the sector itself. As such, the efficient management and human resource development within the telecommunication sector is promoted by LCA, while the Authority is also constantly striving to ensure sustainable and fair competition between telecommunication service providers. Its influence even

stretches to representing government, in consultation with the Minister of Communications, in international matters relating to telecommunications. The rolling out of broadband via a fixed line, or fibre, is currently an extremely hot topic for LCA, although the challenges associated with this have, according to Posholi, prompted a shift in focus to the possibility of developing the country’s use of mobile internet. “With the proliferation of smartphones and all the related mobile devices – iPads, among others – these mobile networks would be better placed to drive the broadband development in Africa,” he states. This does in itself bring with it certain issues, seen in parallel situations throughout the world – namely, as Posholi puts it, “raising spectrum frequencies for the roll-out of mobile services,” although the proliferation Posholi describes and the wealth of mobile devices

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Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) whose usage is ever-growing means that this is an extremely worthwhile exercise for the Authority to undertake. A primary concern in the spectrum of LCA’s future prospects is the development of communication in rural areas of Lesotho. “Putting it into perspective,” describes Posholi, “Lesotho is a small country, but it has a very difficult terrain to negotiate. For this reason, rolling out network infrastructure in this country is a significant challenge.” To combat this, the Authority was forced to find expert and innovative ways to enable this development despite the difficulties presented by its surroundings. “Almost all of the country is mountainous, so noting that we had this challenge in developing infrastructure we established the Universal Access Fund in 2009. “We have two operators in the country, who contribute 1% of their net operating income each year, along with LCA’s contribution of 25% of any surplus in the year. Through this fund, and its capital of around R10 million, we have been able to target those areas which are very remote, rural, and not that viable in

terms of network operators, who are looking for more densely populated areas which will in turn generate a lot of traffic and, ultimately, be the most profitable.” This operation has proved extremely successful in terms of developing such network infrastructure within these areas: “Up to now we have developed around 17 projects, all in very remote areas of the country,” explains Posholi. These steps, in line with LCA’s drive to provide the entire population with the very highest level of communications service, are outlined by Posholi. “Firstly, we earmark a particular area as one where we wish to provide telecommunications services. When we have shown the area that should be covered by these services, we issue an invitation to operators to offer a bid, which tells us how much subsidy they would require from the fund, were they to be awarded the project. Using this reverse option model then allows us to award the project to the operator who has requested the least subsidy from the Universal Access Fund.” Having been put in charge of any of these projects, the infrastructure and the provision of services within

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that area is the exclusive property of the chosen operator for a period of a year, when this incentive can then be shared with another of the country’s operators. It has been a greatly successful endeavour – LCA has been able to install services to some extent, whether 2G or 3G, in all of Lesotho’s ten districts. In addition to the efforts made possible by the Universal Access Fund, Posholi is keen to point out the role that the operators themselves play in the development of networks across the country, allowing LCA to target areas that do not form part of the operators’ “drive” to develop. The future of communications in Lesotho looks likely to involve a third player, further increasing the healthy competition between the country’s two key current operators, Vodacom Lesotho and Econet Wireless Lesotho. “We would like of course for competition


to come in and offer bids, and give to Lesotho and its consumers the best products. We’re looking for someone who is able to come in and take the game to the next level, and who is able to compete financially and technically. It is only when we have that particular player that we will add the third operator to the bidding process, to compete with the current two for the network expansion,” details Posholi. With this future development at the forefront LCA’s current thinking, the strong relationships the country holds with South Africa will inevitably play a large part in ensuring the successful implementation of the many projects it aims to introduce. “I don’t see that collaboration and corroboration going away any time soon,” confirms Posholi, “because Lesotho is where it is and is going to remain there,

Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) regardless of the challengers its location presents.” For this reason, the Authority is required to collaborate with South Africa in multiple ways, as the Chief Executive goes on to explain. “For us, when it comes to accessing the under-sea cables we have to go through South Africa to access them, so even now, one of the biggest challenges we still face in terms of reducing our communication costs is to improve accessibility to this under-sea cabling, and this has to go through South Africa.” Another key issue for the Authority is the situation of Lesotho’s main, densely populated towns, which are found along the border with South Africa, and means a risk of GSM signal “spill over” which provides access to networks which are not licensed in Lesotho. “We have some cooperation from operators in South Africa to come together and see if we can bring this spillage to tolerate levels, in order that we do not encroach into each other’s territory. This working side by side is hugely beneficial and will continue for many years, I don’t see it ever going away,” states Posholi.


“Lesotho is a small country, but it has a very difficult terrain to negotiate. For this reason, rolling out network infrastructure in this country is a significant challenge”


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