By John V Sserwaniko
Late last year, cabinet enacted the new Broad Band Policy requiring telecom operators to ensure they provide 4Mbps high speed and affordable internet to all parts of Uganda. And UCC’s Director Industry Affairs & Content Julianne Mweheire says the policy requires immediate compliance and to be able to comply, telecom operators must rapidly invest in network infrastructure upgrade. This simply means the upcountry areas, which have for long been condemned to expensive, low speed and unreliable internet access, must be saturated with telecom-enabling infrastructure. She says this means increased visibility of related activities like cabling and piping in upcountry towns by American Tower Corporation (ATC or EATON) to ensure telecom companies (which use/hire EATON’s infrastructure as opposed to having their own) immediately comply with government policy.
Mweheire (who joined UCC from telecom giant MTN) believes for this infrastructure expansion to be expeditiously delivered upon, the Local Government leaders upcountry must be re-aligned to begin playing their rightful role to expedite land acquisition and accomplish the necessary licensing procedures. Hence on Friday when Local Government PS Ben Kumumanya gave her the opportunity to address over 200 CAOs and Town Clerks (who are like the CEOs of the Districts, Municipalities & Town Council level LGs), Mweheire considered it more important to sensitize them on the Broad Band Policy (showing them how they can make quick buck) as opposed to rallying them around enforcement of Broadcasting Guidelines, which have been the ground on which many Kizza Besigye talk shows upcountry have been foiled by police.
The meeting’s program originally indicated Mweheire would be schooling the CAOs on the “regulatory framework and guidelines governing broadcasting standards in the country.” The expectation was she would show them their obligations to actively help police in justifying their actions against politicians using radios upcountry to antagonize government programs.
PS Kumumanya had earlier on told them about the Constitutional and Public Service Act provisions that require them to support the government of the day even if it means being misunderstood for participation in partisan politics. Kumumanya had told them they shouldn’t be bothered with any criticisms as long as they are right in what they are doing. But instead Mweheire preferred to share with them a prepared document saying they can read for themselves. Instead she concentrated on showing them the revenue-generating activities embedded in the new Broad Band Policy for the district local governments.
She said the very expensive yet slow-paced internet they cry of in upcountry areas will only be addressed if they become more efficient in approving infrastructural expansion plans for the telecom players in their towns. Mweheire, who later explained to Mulengera news that CAOs were hampering work by delaying to sign off approvals for telecom operators desiring to expand fiber infrastructure, also urged the CAOs and TCs to develop a business mind and participate in generating revenue to finance service delivery.
Mweheire said besides cashing in on infrastructure expansion & site acquisition approvals, which brings in so little, the district LGs upcountry should become versatile and work out an elaborate program and begin to lease out their own properties (land and buildings) to telecom operators. “It’s a good area for revenue generation for the districts because once they put their act together, no telecom operator will continue leasing sites from private property dealers and owners because they are sometimes very cumbersome. We need to have a uniform quotation for the different local governments and we shall all be in business,” explained Mweheire adding that they are many areas of potential partnership (beyond just leasing out sites) between the lower local governments and telecom operators.
“I’m here to show to you why as local governments you are very critical in streamlining operations of the licensees and approving new sites acquisition because many such applications have been staying in your offices for so long.” She separately explained to Mulengera news that the local government leaders’ ineptness and delay in giving the necessary approvals and site acquisitions hadn’t affected only private operators like EATON but even public operators like NITA-Uganda, UTL and Vision Group each time they desire to expand visibility of their communication infrastructure equipment.
Unfortunately, saying “these UCC things are very complicated,” very few CAOs paid keen attention to Mweheire’s presentation. In fact by the time she completed, the meeting hall was half full many of the CAOs and TCs having moved out to do some private gossiping from the balcony side. This prompted PS Ben Kumumanya to ask the UCC team for second chance so that he next time organizes another interface or session between them and the local government leaders that will be exclusively devoted to UCC matters only.
“This helps us as local government to improve revenue-generation more than it helps UCC. We shall approach it differently and have another interface to deepen their understanding of what you have been saying. It’s something they [CAOs] are going to like once we engage properly and make them understand,” Kumumanya told the UCC team moments after Mweheire concluded her presentation. Kumumanya was evidently remorseful at the disinterest the CAOs and TCs showed in UCC’s otherwise very important presentation. (For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).