7 January 2013

Ethiopia: Ethio Telecom Targets Rooftop Acquisitions

Authored by managers at ethio telecom, the federal government may soon write a bill that will force developers of buildings to avail rooftops for the erection of wireless network antennas, Fortune has learnt.

If legislated, the bill will also compel the state owned telecom monopoly to pay building owners for the service they provide; a source with knowledge to the plan, told Fortune.

This comes following severe complaints from mobile users of repeated call interruptions, frequent drops and poor quality of sound during conversation. ethio telecom has 20.3 million subscribers of mobile telephony, with nearly 65pc living in the capital, according to data released on December 30, 2012. Experts at ethio telecom blame high-rise buildings in Addis Abeba for the obstruction of network. Hailemariam Desalegn, prime minister, told MPs in October, 2012, during his first address, after appointed premier, that high-rise buildings are causing network problem.

"The current telecom poles erected on the ground are almost becoming useless," Abdurahim Ahmed, head of public relations department, told Fortune. "Some are completely blocked by the buildings."

ethio telecom has identified around 217 locations in the capital where such problems are highly visible. Of these, buildings in 82 locations are identified to have caused serious problem, including structures in Piazza, Bole, La Gare and Addis Ketema areas.

Building owners are, however, unease about the telecom monopoly asking cooperations to install microwaves and antennas on their rooftops, claim senior managers at ethio telecom.

One such example is with the leaders of the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU), which is based in an 11-storey edifice, onAfrica Avenue(Bole Road). They were approached by the telecom monopoly a year and half ago to utilise the 11th floor for the erection of two microwaves, according to Mesfin Sileshi, secretary general of CETU. When Chinese technicians arrived at the scene, subsequent to expressed agreement, they were armed with numerous accessories, including heavy reinforcement bars, in order to protect the antennas from damage, caused by wind, and double the microwaves they had originally agreed to. They took 64sqm of space on the rooftop.

The Confederation, which claims that it uses the rooftop to host conferences and receptions, thus requested the telecom company to pay 64,000 Br for leasing its space, considering how much CETU would earn from commercial lease. Managers at ethio telecom rejected the amount, arguing it was too much.

"We can use it [the space] for restaurant services," Mesfin said. "We didn't consider the national interest."

The Confederation and management of the telecom company have agreed to meet, to negotiate the terms and fee, on Tuesday, January 5, 2012.

But Mesfin is against ethio telecom contemplating to legislate its wishes, for he believes this will infringe on the rights of property, enshrined in the constitution. He is not a lone voice in his opposition.

A legal expert defines this as a commercial undertaking that ought to be left for the parties in agreement. Only owners have the right to decide on the use of their properties, he told Fortune.

But not all are on the same page. Amaha Bekele, IT advisor forEastern Africaat Ernest & Young, argues that it is common practice in other countries, where proprietors of buildings develop designs, which enable rooftops to be made suitable for the installation of microwaves and antennas.

"Because they garner a lot of interest, telecom companies usually select buildings through bids," Amaha told Fortune. "Not only should ethio telecom convince owners about the quality of services this will bring in mobile telephony, they will have to explain to them the financial gain there for them."

That is what senior managers at ethio telecom are planning to do in the weeks to come, according to Abdurahim. ethio telecom will call building owners for a meeting to discuss the issue, he said.

"Of course, before drafting law, we want the owners to understand the project," Abdurahim told Fortune.

Yet, in the event such a bill surfaces in Parliament, winning the blessing of the administration, fully controlled by the ruling EPRDF, it appears there will be no resistance from the lone opposition voice in the House. Provided that they are fully compensated for their losses and insurance coverage is sufficiently given against wind and lightning, the bill can pass the house's floor with no opposition from him, according to Girma Seifu (MP-Medrek).

"ethio telecom's interest in forcing building owners to avail their rooftops is justified by the prevailing public interest," Girma told Fortune.

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