6 May 2014

Liberia: LTA Advances Aniversal Access - Benefits Flow to Rural Dwellers

The Liberia Telecommunications Authority in consultation with sector stakeholders is moving swiftly ahead with the distribution of draft regulations that will guide and test the selection and implementation process for Universal Access projects throughout the country.

In a one day consultation workshop held at the LTA offices on Congo Town Back Road, sector stakeholders, Chairmen of both the House and Senate Standing Committees on Post and Telecommunications and representatives of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications gathered to share ideas on the guidelines which will bring heavily subsidized data and internet services to the un-served and to areas where it is not commercially viable for service providers to operate.

The structure will consist of a Board headed by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications with the Ministries of Finance, Internal Affairs, Commerce and service providers forming part of that governing body.

The LTA will head the Implementation Committee, which will oversee the implementing process and serve as the secretary to the Board. Service providers will also form part of the implementation unit.

The third component to the Universal Access structure is the project Management Unit, which will consist of a detailed working staff whose function will be to request proposals, evaluate the bids under instruction from the LTA Implementing Committee. Plans will be submitted through the LTA to the Board annually and quarterly.

The draft regulations have been posted on the LTA website and the public is encouraged to scrutinize the proposed process and provide suggestions to improve the initiative. The parties which met at the consultation workshop at the LTA will be providing feedback on the draft document over the next few weeks. World Bank sponsored consultants guided the spirited comprehensive overview during the workshop. Their wealth of experience engaging countries which are in the process of conforming to the International Communication Union mandate to provide services to these areas through service providers has been well received. They suggested that members of each committee should perhaps have overlapping participation in other committees to ensure the continuity of the workflow and better understanding.

LTA Chairperson Angelique Weeks explaining the regulatory development process says, "Once we get the input from the various parties, we'll do a consultation matrix or something that presents the section that people have asked us to make changes to. We will look at the source and the rationale of the changes and address them. Then we will provide a statement of a final provision as suggested or as a modified one, or the provisions may remain the same."

Demand studies are currently being conducted to determine exactly which telecommunication or ICT services will best serve each designated community. Once this has been done and the regulations in place the pilot projects will be ready to take off.

Sinje, Grand Cape Mount County; Yekepa, Nimba County, Gee City, River Gee County and Kakata, Margibi County are the first of four probable sites earmarked to receive heavily subsidized internet or data services through the Universal Access Pilot Project sponsored by a World Bank seed capital loan.

The long range plan is to provide revenue generation from these un-served and underserved areas so ultimately the Universal Access program will sustain itself and will no longer need the heavy subsidy from service providers.

The three year window for the subsidy to fund the universal gap is hopefully enough time to develop avenues for sustainability. By the end of June LTA is hopeful that the pilot projects will unfold.

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