31 July 2014

Cameroon: Towards Liberalizing Optical Fibre Planting

The government of Cameroon is considering liberalizing the planting of optical fibre in the country. Arguments are that the hitherto monopoly enjoyed by Cameroon Telecommunications (Camtel) is not beneficial to the State, as it takes billions of FCFA to plant the cables and to the operators, who have to spend much and may not get a satisfactory capacity to go about their businesses.

Posts and Telecommunications Minister, Jean-Pierre Biyiti bi Essam made the observation in Yaounde recently while presenting the state of advancement of his ministry in implementing projects contained in the 2014 Finance Law. This was in the ongoing third inter-ministerial committee session for the evaluation of programmes contained in the 2014 State budget.

Quizzed on the cost and effectiveness of the already planted optical fibre cables in the country, Minister Biyiti bi Essam is quoted as saying that "it is necessary to liberalize the planting of optical fibre because government alone cannot do it." The State, he said, has already planted about 6,000 km of optical fibre and experts say the country needs at least 20,000 km of the cables for proper telecommunications.

The Minister's outing in Yaounde a few days ago on the issue of planting optical fibre came after similar concerns expressed in previous occasions notably the 2013 New Year Wishes ceremony during which he said, "It is unthinkable that optical fibre passes through a locality without the population benefitting from it. It is good that the cables get even into households.

It is illegal that an operator flouts the laws in place to plant its own optical fibre, but as an authority of the sector we should also ask the question why it is a symptom. There is need to reflect," he concluded. Reliable sources in the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications told Cameroon Tribune that the yet-to-be operational third mobile telephone operator, Viettel, has been served the right to plant optical fibre where Camtel cables do not exist.

Liberalising the planting of optical fibre in the country, another source said, would require reviewing the December 21, 2010 law on electronic communication which prohibits the planting of optical fibre cables by operators from one town to the other. If the law does not stop operators from planting optical fibre cables within towns, provided they meet the requirements of the local administrative authorities, planting the cables from one town to the other is strictly regulated.

According to Article 9 of the 2010 law, the planting of optical fibre cables from one town to the other requires an express request from the State through a call for tenders where only the best operator is selected. Liberalizing the sector will therefore mean taking off the clause from the law so that operators can themselves apply to plant optical fibre cables where and when they think could be beneficial to the business they are carrying out. The liberalization, our source added, would engender competition which obviously increases the offer of the cables and lower the prices of especially telecom services.


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