Namibia: City Councillor Questions Telecoms Licence

City of Windhoek councillor Brunhilde Cornelius has cited the Local Authorities Act of 1992 in saying the legislation does not empower the municipality to provide any telecommunications services.

"This remains the position whether the council provides such services directly or through some joint venture, which the council is now requested to enter into," Cornelius said during a city council meeting last week.

The recent Telecommunications Service Licence awarded to the city by the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN) will enable it to optimally utilise the existing fibre optic network infrastructure to improve service delivery.

Municipal spokesperson Harold Akwenye said because of technologies already deployed by the city and those it intends to deploy, the communications regulator saw it fit to award the city a full licence.

However, Cornelius said she was surprised to learn CRAN approved a Class Comprehensive Telecommunications Services Licence to the city.

"It was a shock to learn that City of Windhoek is entering into an agreement with the Chinese firm, Huawei, to effectively monopolise the telecommunications sector in our capital, which intention is clear from newly proposed regulations by the City of Windhoek to increase its control over access by other telecommunications service providers - both public and privately owned," read the motion from Cornelius.

In her motion to CEO Robert Kahimise, Cornelius said it is the duty of the city council to ensure a free market economy thrives.

She noted "it is extremely irresponsible when we make decisions not only to restrict our free-market economy but to actively compete and ultimately destroy it. When we take the latter route, we may enrich a few individuals but the people of Namibia will suffer greatly for it".

"We have the evidence for this as our economy declined substantially over the past four years, leading to material shortfalls in tax revenue collection and substantial increases in public debt. Hundreds of businesses closed down, tens of thousands of Namibians lost their jobs, 185 of our graduates cannot find work and government's ability to provide social safety nets and develop our country has been severely compromised," she said. She continued that at the same time the city received the licence from CRAN, it issued proposed regulations to regulate trenching and excavations on streets.

"The overall intention of this proposed regulation is for the City of Windhoek to have the exclusive right and discretion to decide who may install fibre optic infrastructure and provide related telecommunications services in our city. There can be little doubt that the intention is for the City of Windhoek to become a telecommunications service provider, directly or through a joint venture, and at the same time have the right to exclude other telecommunications service providers from competing with the City of Windhoek". The High Court announced on 26 March 2020 that the Communications Act of 2009 allows all CRAN licence holders to install required infrastructure. "It is unfortunate that the management committee never informed the council of this judgement against it, despite the council having been the first respondent in that case and despite the court ruling that this council acted unlawfully. It is also unfortunate that this council does not insist on any action against those who brought this council to such unlawful actions," said Cornelius.

Earlier this month, the country's first mobile telecommunications service provider, MTC, labelled as 'anti-competitive' the issuing of the telecommunications service license by CRAN. According to MTC's Tim Ekandjo, this decision by CRAN is both anti-competitive and against the Communications Act and the Competitions Act. "Surprisingly and without following a rule-making process (in terms of which the public and licensees would have had an opportunity to provide comments), on 29 April 2020, CRAN awarded a Class Comprehensive Telecommunications Service License (ECNS and ECS) to the City of Windhoek. The license awarded allows for the provision of telecommunications services and the operation and deployment of a network," he said.

Ekandjo explained for the provision of telecommunication services in Windhoek, a licensee needs to obtain approval from the City of Windhoek to set up telecommunication equipment on their land, either by digging for fibre or by putting up towers. However, Akwenye stated the city does not offer fibre optic services to the public.

"I can confirm that we went out on expression of interest to test the market in 2018, and we have received satisfactory feedback from some of the players in this space. The initiative by the city to test the market also shows that there is a need and willingness to avail or share the city's fibre optic network infrastructure with other players in the market through proper corporate standards governing the industry," Akwenye said.

In its five-year strategic plan that ends in 2022, the City of Windhoek has also prioritised the smart city concept to "restore its ability to govern itself more effectively, focusing on ensuring financial sustainability and initiatives that focus on technological advancement, cleanliness, best practices, vibrancy, green, affordability and innovation".

The city councillors are expected to debate the motion by Cornelius tomorrow.

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