The Inquirer (Monrovia)

Liberia: LTA, Others Agree for Lower Rates

The LTA's Board of Commissioners jumped out to a bold start of a second term partnering with the Ministry of Telecommunications and sector stakeholders to advance a national project which will bring heavily subsidized Universal Access to underserved rural locations in all fifteen counties providing internet, data and telephone services. Ministry of Post and Telecommunications Deputy Minister for Technical Services Titus, LTA Commissioner Harry Yuan and Universal Access Coordinator Elijah Glay were on ELBC's Super Morning Breakfast Show recently explaining the dynamics of the program which will continue to unfold.

The project is a requirement for the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) member states and part of the millennium development program to reach the underserved population.

It requires service providers and telecommunication sector players to contribute a percentage of their gross revenue to a Universal Access Fund (UAF) which will facilitate services throughout the nation giving residents vital communication access within the country and the outside world.

The services will be provided in areas that are not commercially viable, providing access to both vulnerable and potential customers. Workshops laying the foundation for Universal Access were held as far back as 2009 sponsored by the ITU.

In 2010 LTA and Ministry of Post and Telecommunications collaborated in drafting the ICT policy which outlined the Universal Access Program structure and in 2011 the Universal Access Governing Board and the implementation Committee were formed through the adoption of the national ICT and Telecom Policy.

Regulations on how the project will proceed, which communities are prioritized and the criteria on awarding projects will be developed by the LTA.

This bold effort to provide Universal Access across the country has its challenges and the LTA is taking careful steps to avoid where other countries have failed because of a lack of clear guidelines on how funds once deposited by providers are expended.

The policy law presently requires legislative approval prior to disbursements once funds are deposited in the UAF, waiting for this approval could slow the process of implementation considerably.

Recently appointed LTA Commissioner Harry Yuan serving his second and final four year term will be heading the draft regulation development, the LTA intends to avoid problems by adopting best practice plans based on clear cut strategy from a policy perspective.

After the regulations are drafted a pilot project will be launched to test the effectiveness of the project under World Bank consultancy.

In March however, the LTA will embark on a Demand Study to identify the areas in need. By June they hope to have the regulations in place and guidelines on how it will operate with funds flowing into the fund from service providers.

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