By Dr. Darren Wilkins
This article was initially published in 2015. Today, I have chosen to edit and republish it because we have a new government with new players, even though the roles and functions of the institutions discussed in subsequent paragraphs still remain the same. As I did in 2015, attempt to provide some insight into Liberia’s ICT and Telecommunications sector with particular focus on its constituents. My attempt here 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, today, permit me to provide some education that will enable Liberians understand the distinction in responsibilities and the roles and functions of the players in the sector. I will begin with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications since it heads the sector.
The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications or MoPT is the POLICY MAKER and the HEAD of Liberia’s Telecommunications and 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 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 (Telecom Act 2007).The LTA is governed by a five-person Board of Commissioners. These Commissioners are appointed by the President for a tenured four-year period. 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% shares 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.
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 Ministry of Culture Affairs and Tourism is the policymaking body of the broadcasting industry. It addition, MICAT in collaboration with the LTA is responsible to provide 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.
Orange Liberia was launched in the country in 2004 with a vision to be the nation’s leading service provider. The company has extended its coverage to other West African countries including Guinea and has been one of the few GSM operators that has provided many innovative products and services in Liberia.
CSquared: Originally referred to as “Google Project Link” is a conglomeration of four companies including Google, Convergence Partners, International Finance Corporation (“IFC”), and Mitsui & Co., Ltd. (“Mitsui”). CSquared is currently building a 200 KM metropolitan network in Monrovia. They are expected to operate as “Carrier of Carriers”. By investing in a shared internet infrastructure and making it available to local ISPs and mobile operators, CSquared helps bring high-quality broadband access to Liberia.
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/Web development and integration as well as corporate training; there’s HAK Technology which specializes in Web and software development; there’s Dynamic GT which specializes on IT infrastructure development; 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 AME University is planning start a graduate level program in Management Information Systems, while the University of Liberia works toward a robust baccalaureate program in Computer Science of ICT.
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 toward creating awareness for ICTs in Liberia.
Finally, this may not be an exhaustive delineation or write-up on ALL “constituents” of Liberia’s ICT and Telecommunications Sector. Obviously, I did not go deep into the broadcasting industry. But it is my hope that my effort to provide insight helps educate consumers about the roles and responsibilities of players in our ICT and Telecommunications Sector. That’s it!
Until next week, CARPE DIEM!!