Major Players in Liberia’s ICT Sector: Their Roles and Responsibilities

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By Dr. Darren Wilkins | 0886703789\0777129092 | [email protected]

This article was initially published in 2015, then again in 2018.  Once again, I have chosen to have it republished due to the recent “shemozzle” among Liberians, regarding the Mobile Network Operators’ (MNOs) decision (through an LTA order) to increase tariff on voice and internet packages in Liberia. My attention was particularly drawn to a radio interview in which a colleague, who I had hitherto that interview, surmised had a better understanding of our Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, clearly misinformed the public about the roles and responsibilities of the Sector’s players. Wrong information as we know, has the propensity to exacerbate a bad situation and therefore fuel unnecessary tension.

Before going further, please note that I write as a contributor and one of the crafters of several of legal and regulatory documents or instruments that guide the sector. I addition, I have for the most part of my professional life, been a player in the Sector so, it is safe to say, I know a little about the Sector. Also, my attempt to provide insight into the Sector emanates from the fact that many Liberians do not know exactly who is who, or who does what in the sector. For example, I have heard people blame the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications for not penalizing GSM operators for not delivering certain services when this is a function of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA). And, some Liberians, including ICT professionals, tend to mix up the responsibilities of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) with those of LIBTELCO’s.  So clearly, there’s a need to provide some education. Let me first start with some of the legal and regulatory instruments of the sector.

There are several documents that were developed to “guide” the Sector. There is the Telecommunications Act of 2007 (the “mother” of all documents in the sector), the National ICT Strategy, the E-Government Strategy, the National Cyber Security Strategy, and so on. All of these “documents” have helped to bring us this far as it relates to ICT in Liberia. While I chose to mention these documents, the focus of this article is on the major players of the Sector. So, let me begin with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications since it is considered the “HEAD of the SECTOR”.

The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications or MoPT is the POLICY MAKER and the HEAD of Liberia’s ICT sector. Within this ministry, there are three main departments: The Department of Administration; The Department of Operations; and The Department of Telecommunications and Technical Services.  In addition to ensuring that the country operates an effective and efficient postal service, the Ministry develops postal and ICT policies for the sector and oversees the GoL e-government program, through the Chief Information Office (CIO) and the Project Management Office (PMO).

The Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) is the REGULATOR. It is the statutory regulatory body established to foster the provision of accessible and affordable ICT based telecommunications services for all Liberians. The LTA was created by the Telecommunications ACT of 2007. The LTA is governed by a quinquevirate or five-person Board of Commissioners. These Commissioners are appointed by the President to serve one or two terms, depending on the will and pleasure of the President. The President designates one of the five appointed Commissioners to be Chairperson of the Commission. Within the LTA are several departments, each headed by a commissioner. They include the Department of Administration and Legal Affairs; Department of Engineering and Technology; the Department of Government and Consumer Affairs; the Department of Licensing and Regulations; and the Department of International Gateway Management System.

LIBTELCO, formerly the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation is designated by the Telecommunications Act of 2007 as the NATIONAL OPERATOR. LIBTELCO provides both fiber (terrestrial and aerial) and wireless broadband last mile connectivity to its customers, majority of which is Government. Until recently, LIBTELCO had competitive advantage in the provision of broadband internet services since it has 20% share in the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine optical fiber cable system, and was the only operator delivering broadband services through fiber optic cable connectivity. Ostensibly, that “de facto” monopoly is no more since other players have begun to engage and compete in this realm. LIBTELCO initially received an Internet Service Provider’s license and most recently, and “Operator’s” license. This means, LIBTELCO plays the same role as LONESTAR or ORANGE, but it is state-owned. It is NOT a REGULATOR as folks wrongly believe. Many folks also believe that LIBTELCO continues to run the same CDMA platform it successfully ran years ago. That is absolutely UNTRUE. LIBTELCO’s CDMA platform was discontinued years ago; it now runs an IP-based platform similar to those of the other MNOs. This is a discussion for another article of course.

The Cable Consortium of Liberia (CCL) is a public-private partnership that was created by stakeholders in an effort to bring the first high speed fiber optic submarine cable to Liberia. It is also the manager of the ACE submarine optical fiber cable. The CCL is “owned” by the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Finance, Development and Planning (MFDP) and is managed by a Chairperson, with MNOs and ISPs as board members.

The Ministry of Culture Affairs and Tourism is the policymaking body of the broadcasting industry. It addition, MICAT in collaboration with the LTA is responsible for the provision of license(s) for television and radio broadcasting services.

GSM Operators/Mobile Network Operators and Internet Services Providers: Liberia has several GSM operators and fixed wireless providers that are competing for customers. These operators and providers include: Lonestar Cell MTN, Orange Liberia, K3-Telecom, PowerNet, Moways, NasGlobal, et al. Lonestar Cell MTN is member of MTN Group which is a leading international telecommunications company operating in several countries in the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Since the beginning of its operations in Liberia in 2001, Lonestar Cell MTN, has been an expansive telecommunications network in the country reaching all fifteen counties. On the other hand, Orange Liberia is the second largest mobile network operator in Liberia. The company was founded in 2003 as Cellcom Telecommunications Ltd, backed by US-based private international investment firm YCF Group. Cellcom was wholly acquired by French-multinational Orange Group (via its Orange Cote d’Ivoire business unit) in early 2016. Rebranding to Orange Liberia was completed by May 2017.

Liberia Research and Education Network (LRREN): One of the most recent entrants into the ICT sphere of Liberia is the Liberia Research and Education Network.  Enshrined in the Draft 2018-2023 National ICT Policy is a mandate for the creation of a research and education network to improve education and research for national development.).The LRREN is expected to connect to other regional and international RENs to boost research and education in the nation; an endeavor that ultimately enhances our national economic development initiatives.

C-Squared: C-Squared which we formerly referred to as “Google Project Link”, was formed on May 16, 2017, when an agreement was signed between Google, Convergence Partners, International Finance Corporation (“IFC”), and Mitsui & Co., Ltd. (“Mitsui”) to invest in CSquared, a technology company making commercially-driven investments into broadband-enabling infrastructure throughout Africa. CSquared operates in several African countries including Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and Liberia. CSquared is also known for the deployment of the METROPOLITAN network in and outside of Monrovia. CSquared invests in a shared internet infrastructure and making it available to local ISPs and mobile operators, thus helping to bring high-quality broadband access to Africa’s major cities.

K-NET of Ghana: is one of the newest players on the ground. The Company has been given license to operate as an IT firm in Liberia and,  in recent times,the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) engaged in a partnership with K-Net to deliver connectivity to one of the country’s more remote regions.

Radio and TV Broadcast: Some operators in the broadcasting industry include the plethora of radio and television stations (national, local, community, etc), The Liberia Broadcasting System (State-Owned), DSTV, SATCOM, K3-Telecom, NanaSat, KWese, etc.

ICT firms: Liberia has several ICT firms that specialize in particular areas. There is MWetana which specializes in software and systems development; there’s Sahara Technology Solutions which specializes in Open Source Software and Systems integration; there’s HAK Technology which specializes in Web and software development; there’s Kwagei Inc. which specializes on Software development and integration; there are  BlueSeas and Everybuilder­­­­ which specialize in Web design and Hosting and many other local ICT firms who form part of the sector. I would be remiss if I don’t mention iLAB or Innovation LAB which is not necessarily an ICT firm but provide ICT solutions and capacity building and is also part of the sector.

ICT Schools: There are several ICT institutions that support the ICT sector. The Bluecrest, NIIT, United Methodist University, Startz College, MVTC, , Inter-Digital, YMCA training program and so on. The University of Liberia is working toward a robust baccalaureate program in Information Technology/Information Systems as well.

LITSU: Another group that has emerged over the years is the Liberian Information Technology Student Union or LITSU. This group is an amalgam of IT students from various institutions in Liberia working in advocacy for ICT in Liberia.

Finally, this may not be an exhaustive delineation or write-up on ALL “constituents” of Liberia’s ICT Sector. Obviously, I did not go deep into the broadcasting industry. But it is my hope that my effort to provide insight on the roles and responsibilities of players in our ICT Sector has done some good.  That’s it!

Until next week, CARPE DIEM!!

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