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BOCRA must push for communications sector policy BIDPA

The Botswana Communications Regulations Authority (BOCRA) has been urged to advocate for the development of a policy document for the communications sector. The policy will help improve the capacity of the regulator to further develop the sector.

A policy document will set the performance targets of the sector as well as the governance arrangements and implementation setup, and how performance measurement is to be carried out.

The study has revealed that the majority of the broadcasting sector remains unregulated, or at least remains outside of the ambit of BOCRA’s regulatory authority. The unregulated sector thus includes RB 1 and 2, BTv, all the SABC channels (1, 2, and 3), DSTv Botswana and Multi Choice South Africa. However, in the case of the SABC channels, geographical reach is largely restricted to villages and towns close to South Africa.

“The most influential radio media, RB1 and RB2 and BTv are unregulated by BOCRA. Being thus unregulated implies a lack of capacity by BOCRA to exert regulatory discipline on the most influential media, possibly leading to lack of uniformity of standards.”

According to a Customer Satisfaction Survey commissioned by BOCRA and carried out by the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA), the general view is that overall; respondents are satisfied with communications sector services in Botswana.

But the fact that there is no policy statement/document for the communications sector, which, in turn means no performance targets, implementation arrangements and other implementation measures are set for the sector, remains a cause for concern for BIDPA researchers.

“In order to improve customer understanding of the relationship between technical matters and service quality and pricing, BOCRA must increase targeted educational efforts in those particular matters. For example, the relationship of bandwidth, Internet speed and Internet type to their satisfaction with services are less understood by the users of BOCRA regulated service,” BIDPA researchers noted in their conclusions.

According to the Study, the most commonly used mode of communication in Botswana is the cellular phone. At least 93% of respondents had a mobile phone set. The least common mode of communication in the country is the fixed line telephony.

Only 15% of the respondents indicated owning a fixed line telephone either at work or in their homes a number of factors, such as the improvements in technology, particularly the entrance of mobile telephones ought to explain this development.

The Survey report further notes that the growth in use of the mobile phone as the most common mode of communication in Botswana is in consonance with the finding of the Operator and Customer Perception Survey of 2012 (BTA 2012), carried out at the behest of the then regulator of the telecommunications sector, the Botswana

Telecommunications Authority or BTA. It is also reflected in global trends, where the ITU shows mobile telephony as the most common communications mode for the developed countries.

However, BIDPA researchers are of the view that in order to improve the capacity of the regulator to improve its evidence based decision making processes, BOCRA must pay more focus on generating customer service information.

They note that the regulator would be aided by section 8 of the Communications Regulatory Act to require information from operators that may also aid the information obtained from undertakings such as this one. Further, they say the benefit of this intervention will spread beyond just the communications sector as others, including researchers, policy makers, and service providers will also be able to better understand the sector, including its contribution to national development.

The Survey concludes by stating that exempting state broadcasters from regulatory authority is likely to lead to unbalanced development of the sector, and possibly expose some of the users to suboptimal services. In Botswana’s case, the study notes,  it has been consistently shown that state broadcasters are actually the most influential broadcasters, which implies that regulatory authority is not applied at the most influential parts of the industry

OTHER FINDINGS

The BOCRA Customer Satisfaction Survey noted that the influence of age, gender, geography and education on customer satisfaction tends to vary depending on the sector being analysed. For instance, where mobile telephony is concerned, the youth are clearly the most dominant age group in terms of usage of the technology. Similarly they use many other applications offered by, the Internet, and data usage. However, the youth do not seem particularly keen on fixed lines.

On the other hand, the Survey states that it appears that geographical location has little influence on the choice of billing method for the respondents. This could either be that optimal services are being provided by service providers, in other words, that regulation is effective.

As expected the study confirmed that most people are multiple users of communication modes. Whereas the study set out to interview a 1000 people, it has turned out that the study generated over 2600 responses.

“Such a pattern signifies the fact that any one user of communications modes uses more than just one. Another notable matter is that these modes of communication offer different solutions. The cellular phone offers voice calls, short messaging, Internet services, social media and others. Similarly the post office offers more than just posting letters-it offers philately, old age pensions, money orders and others. It can be concluded therefore that the development of any of the subsectors of the communications sector will further add to the satisfaction of customers,” the researchers write in their report.

They note that high rates of knowledge prevail in terms of the correct conduct of using mobile phones.

“Similarly respondents knew of the need to not disturb infrastructure meant for mobile, radio, television and other communications. For instance, the majority of the respondents understood the importance of NOT sending pornographic and other obscene materials. The study has revealed that generally consumers do not pay much attention to standard technical details that have a bearing on quality, pricing and efficiency. Such issues as the speed of the Internet, the type of the Internet directly impact the quality of service, but generally customers tend to pay little attention to either.”

The Survey notes that the capacity of each sector to perform optimally depends, to varying degrees on that of other sectors:  

“For example, the fact that the majority of Internet services are accessed through mobile phone sets means that satisfaction levels in the Internet service provision are, to some extent reliant on the optimality of mobile phone network capacity. Similarly the Kitsong Centres, provided through post offices provide access to Internet, and similarly some radio services are provided online. On the other hand, the post offices, with their wide network of bureaus and agencies improve mobile phone access by selling air time vouchers; whereas part of access to the public broadcaster, BTv is carried by the DSTv signal. There are probably many other interdependencies in the communications sector which can be improved through targeted developmental and regulatory activities.”

IMPLICATIONS

The above finding has one implication for any evaluation; it means that assessments of customer satisfaction matters are not without complexity. As stated, for instance, that part of the BTv signal is carried through DSTv, it implies that the capacity of DSTv to deliver, instance clear signal could impact on the customer satisfaction of BTv watchers.

Similarly, the satisfaction of Internet users who use mobile phone handsets to access the web may be influenced directly by the capacity of the carriers such as Mascom, Orange and be Mobile to provide a quality service. These are actually the majority of Internet surfers in Botswana.

The BIDPA researchers observe that from an interventionist policy perspective however, it suggests that lags in developments by any of the sector may lead to underperformance by other subsectors.

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