Botswana retains internet calling services

Botswana says it will not ban the use of free Internet calling services which is slowly dominating the local market,  Deputy Permanent Secretary (ICT) in the Ministry of Transport and Communications disclosed this week.

Despite that the only and main traditional telecommunications company, Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited (BTCL) going through a rough patch, government of Botswana plans to ban Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is out of thoughts.

“Banning VoIP will be akin to isolating the country from a larger part of the world. As a free market economy, Botswana believes that the best approach is to allow market forces to influence the type of services it requires,” said Ephraim Balebetse, Deputy Permanent Secretary responsible for Information Communication Technology, (ICT) in the Ministry of Transport and Communications, adding that Any attempts to protect traditional voice-calling technology would be counterproductive as it would be going against market demands.

Balebetse disclosed that BTCL has not been doing too well and if the Botswana government were to apply a Gambian solution, use of VoIP would be altered in such manner that the recently privatised state-owned enterprise could be restored to profitability.

Botswana Telecommunications is shedding millions of money in profits due to stiff competition by rival mobile communication outfits who are offering far much better rates than the government owned company. Efforts also to list on the local bourse has not brought about quick turn around and this has send off red flags as to where the company was going.

The peculiarity of the Botswana situation by pointing out that in one respect, VoIP which was introduced in Botswana in 2006 with efforts to further liberalise the local telecommunications market was meant to lift the restriction on its usage by Value-Added Network service providers.

He said Botswana subscribes to technology neutrality. The introduction of VoIP was a deliberate government policy decision that is in sync with international communications technology development trends and that VoIP services were free.

Some African governments — Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia and Zimbabwe  have restricted the use of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services. Gambia’s equivalent of the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) banned the commercial use of such services after losing a lot of money to Skype.

“VoIP is not free as it is Internet protocol-based services that can only be enjoyed once one has paid for Internet access. Internet, whether accessed through a mobile phone, computer or any other Internet compatible device comes at a cost,” Balebetse noted, adding that ICT-advanced economies like the United States, Europe and South East Asia embrace Internet-based applications, content and services because it is in the Internet space (or the cloud) that innovation, entertainment and socio-economic development are facilitated.

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