TELECOM SECTOR MAKES PROGRESS
By Mawutodzi K. Abissath
|Saturday, June 10, 2000 No. 147931. Price ¢800|
IN the 20th Century, when: Ghana was Gold Coast, gold, cocoa and timber were regarded as the economic saviours of the country. But today, at the threshold of the 21st Century, one can brag without fear of exaggeration that the telecom industry of the nation is the rock upon which Ghana can build its economic development infrastructure.
In other words, for Ghana to progress and prosper economically in the new millennium, it must invest in knowledge and skill rather than gold and cocoa. This knowledge and skill is what is technically known as Information and Communications Technology.
If you tell your 15-year-old child that, just about five years ago, there was only one place in Accra, called the P & T External Section where any human being in Ghana who wanted to speak with someone abroad ought to go, the child will look at your face with open mouth. Even then, you would have had to book your call for at least three days or more in advance.
As for obtaining your own phone line in your private house, you would need to be on the waiting list for at least ten years. If you are fortunate, you would get your phone in 20 years’ time. If you are not lucky, you might cross the great sea into the other side of heaven before it would be your 'turn to be connected,
However, today, your five-year-old child, even in your absence, can pick up your phone, either fixed or mobile and call his classmate in Kasoa and tell him: "Hello, Kofi; Mum has bought Fanta, for me; will you drink some?" Today, you can receive a call in your bathroom from your cousin in Japan that he has remitted you something you must go and collect at the Ghana Commercial Bank.
Today, a student in Bolgatanga Secondary School can call his mother at the Keta Market that he needs some Keta Schoolboys and gari. 'Today, an, investor in Chicago in America can communicate directly with a Paramount Chief at Amedzope and inquire about tourism potential of the Amedzope mountains, etc. Even though we still have a long way to go as a nation, we should not take this progress in the country's telecom industry for granted.
Records show that Ghana's telecommunications sector restructuring programme started in February 1997, with a principal aim at increasing private sector participation in the establishment of modern communications infrastructure and the provision of a variety of services.
According to telecom experts, the strategy adopted by the government was the creation of two major nation, all operators, namely Ghana Telecom and the Western Telesystems Ghana 'Limited (WESTEL) following the sale of 3D per cent share of the then Post and Telecommunications Corporation (P&T).
Government still has 70 per cent shares for future use for the benefit of the nation. Statistics indicate that as at 1994, Ghana could boast of only 5,000 telephone lines. This means that after almost 40 years of independence since 1957, when the nation's population hit almost 18 million only less than 10 million people had access to telephone facility. Thus, with the privatization of the telecom sector, the two national operators were tasked to increase telephone lines from the 5,000 to 50.000 by the 'year 2000. Telecom experts term this as increasing telephone penetration from three to over 10 percent of the population.
It is reassuring to learn that, as at the time of writing this piece, Ghana Telecom and WESTEL have managed to increase tele-density to nearly one per hundred as compared with about four per 100.0. of the population in early 1997, according to the Telecom Adviser to the Minister of Communications. Ghana Telecom and WESTEL have also increased access to telephone service through the availability of thousands of paid-phones provided countrywide 'since 1997, and 1999 respectively. It must be explained that WESTEL actually started operation in 1999.
Another telecom company which has been .licensed by the National Communications Authority to operate as a national operator is Capital Telecom. What is unique about Capital Telecom is that it is mandated specifically to provide telecommunications services to the rural and underserved communities in the country. So far, its services delivered to the - southern sector of Ghana is covering five regions including Western, Central, Volta, Eastern, and Greater Accra.
Besides, the above-mentioned fixed telephone operators, there are three major - cellular mobile telephone operators who have contributed a great - deal to make Ghana's Telecom Sector-an enviable one. They include Millicom (Gh) Ltd., operators of Mobitel, Scancom Ltd. Spacefon, and Cell Tel Ltd. operators of Celtel phones.
On Wednesday, May 17, 2000, when the World Telecom Day was celebrated throughout the world, almost all of these telecom operators both fixed and mobile under the coordinator ship of the National Communications Authority mounted an exhibition within the premises of the Ministry of Communications as part of activities marking the Day.
It was amazing to know that apart from providing telephone services to the public, some of these telecom operators have been engaging in tremendous charitable development projects and goodwill services that deserve emulation. It is relevant to mention that Ghana Telecom and WESTEL are mandated to opera CSM Mobile Services and before long; Ghana Telecom will take off and rural Ghana will not be the same again.
Even though the focus of this article is on the telecom industry, one cannot fail to mention in passing the wonderful work the private sector in the Information Technology IT in general is doing.
According to the Telecom Adviser to the Government, in spite of relatively limited access to computers, the Internet services providers in Ghana today are doing a wonderful job. Data telecom operators in the country cannot be ignored for their contributions towards the advancement of the telecom industry. And if one should attempt to broaden the communications sector in its entirety to rope in the print and electronic media, the story will be different.
The simple truth is that communications has influence on economic development, supports manufacturing and agriculture, helps to promote export, projects tourism, attracts investment and facilitate banking, health and education.
Having said this it must be pointed out that, for Ghana's telecom industry to do better than what pertains today, there will be a need for the regulatory aspect of the industry to be handled professionally to create an environment of peace, harmony and trust. But Ghana's telecom experts, technologists, scientists and engineers must also not be satisfied with mere importation of foreign communications equipment only.
They must be creative and endeavor to manufacture simple telecom gadgets at affordable prices for rural dwellers to improve upon their economic development. In his World Telecom Day message to the world this year, the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan stated: "In the new millennium, let us make telecommunications the engine of development and integration that it can be. Only then can we capture the promises of globalisation while managing its adverse effects."
The author works with Information Services Department (ISD) email@example.com
NB: This article was first published by the Daily Graphic Saturday, June 10, 2000.