Speech from Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General

Uganda Communications Commission - 10th Anniversary Symposium
Kampala, Uganda
3 October 2008

Mr President,
Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

What a great pleasure it is to be with you here today, as we celebrate the many remarkable achievements of the UCC over the past ten years.

Let’s take a few moments to review those accomplishments. What a long way Uganda’s ICT sector has come since the establishment of the UCC, following the adoption of the Communications Act in the late 1990s.

Back in 1998, Uganda was a monopoly market with a very poor level of ICT penetration, even by African standards.

Teledensity stood at just 0.28 percent. That translates to fewer than one telephone for every 350 people.

Penetration rates were lower still outside the main cities, and the majority of rural villages simply had no connection at all.

Today, total fixed line connections stand at over 162,000. Access has been dramatically increased through the provision of payphones and other public access facilities.

Mobile growth is even more astonishing. From just 12,500 lines in 1998, Uganda now boasts a thriving mobile market that’s expected to top six million subscribers by the end of this year.

Despite warnings by naysayers that radical liberalization of this sector would lead to the fragmentation of revenues and service coverage, you now have four operators in place, and all are winning a healthy market share.

Your commitment to broaden access by keeping tariffs as competitive as possible has created a vibrant market characterized by innovative pricing strategies – ‘family and friends’ promotions, ‘bulk use’ discounts and cash-back promotions have all been introduced by operators over the course of the year.

Despite the high cost of maintaining older fixed line infrastructure, you've made Internet access a priority, so that you now have a flourishing ISP sector.
And while Uganda continues to suffer from international bandwidth constraints, this has not held you back from pioneering a move to the mobile Internet – putting you well ahead of most of your neighbours, as well as many of the world’s more developed nations.

New, higher speed wireless technologies like WiMAX and, eventually, IMT-Advanced, should help you further leverage your mobile base to drive up wireless broadband and enhance the range and quality of services.

In rural Uganda, you’ve succeeded in extending access to all districts through public facilities like payphones, multipurpose community telecentres and Internet cafés. You were among the first in the developing world to make under-served communities a concrete policy priority, and to set up a sustainable framework to support ongoing network rollout and service provision, through the Rural Communications Development Fund.

Your ICT Training Centres are now helping build capacity among grassroots communities, while providing a livelihood for the local entrepreneurs who run them. And you’re already well advanced in plans to further extend Internet connectivity to district schools and hospitals, to improve local education and health care services.

Distinguished colleagues,

When it comes to bridging the Digital Divide, Uganda stands out as a shining beacon of what can be achieved, given the right policies and political will.

Many would like to know the secret of your success. I believe it is that rare combination of vision; regulatory innovation and best practice; and the development of a clear roadmap to take you where you want to go.

You’ve had the courage to dare to dream big – and the conviction to carry through those dreams, through comprehensive project plans backed up by rigorous follow-through.

You’ve embraced highly innovative ICT development models that harness the skills and resources of private sector partners to create winning strategies that benefit all.

And you’ve implemented flexible, transparent and scalable regulatory frameworks geared to the demands of modern markets through technology-neutral and service-neutral approaches.

Uganda’s new Multi-Service Authorization Regime serves as a model of forward-looking policy-making, streamlining licensing and helping stimulate deployment of appropriate technologies as they become available.

So many achievements, in such a short time.

If that were not enough, the future looks even brighter, with several exciting developments on the horizon.

The EASSy cable is now under construction, and slated to become operational in 2010. TEAMS should come into operation around the same time. When they do, they will free Uganda from dependence on satellite links, and should help drive Internet access costs down even further.

At the same time, Uganda is now nearing completion of its own much-needed national fibre backbone, which will deliver high-speed capacity to public and private users. This project has enormous potential to generate even more momentum within Uganda’s ICT market – particularly if capacity can be made available to service providers at wholesale rates that encourage the on-selling of affordably-priced services to businesses and consumers.

This concept of ‘Open Access’ to fibre backbone infrastructure was one of the topics discussed at ITU’s Global Symposium for Regulators in Thailand earlier this year. While the approach is a relatively new one, it has been successfully implemented by early adopters including Ireland’s SERPANT Broadband Project, and the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative in Virginia in the United States.

Both projects are focused on delivering affordable broadband services to under-served communities and rural populations through infrastructure-sharing models based around the Open Access concept.

Open Access means creating competition in all layers of the network. Simply put, it means that backbone operators serve as wholesale providers, giving them the incentive to sell as much capacity as possible to as many retail providers as they can, to ensure low-cost delivery to users.

Uganda is ideally poised to embrace such a forward-looking approach. An Open Access policy meshes perfectly with your unrivalled track record as an innovator, and your tireless commitment to connecting the unconnected.

ITU is ready to assist you in the development of the necessary frameworks to support a shared approach to this invaluable new resource, should you so desire.

Dear friends,

In an effort to help the global regulatory community stay abreast of new pricing and modeling practices and methodologies, ITU will be holding an Executive-Level Training session for Heads of Regulatory Authorities at our Geneva headquarters immediately prior to this year’s Council session in November.

The session is designed to help top management get to grips with the challenges raised by emerging technologies. It will be run in parallel with a two-week training course to help regulatory costing staff develop their own cost models.

As countries begin the transition to Next-Generation Networks, understanding new cost models at both the strategic and operational level will be essential to making informed decisions that will promote investment and ongoing development of the sector.

I trust that I will have the pleasure of welcoming some of you to these two events, and that while you are there you will be kind enough to share the wisdom you have gained during the course of your extraordinary ten-year success story with other leading regulators from around the world.

Thank you.