Sierra Leone set to deregulate international gateway

Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone

By Olusegun Abolaji Ogundeji
To demonstrate its commitment to key regulatory and policy changes, the government of Sierra Leone has released a road map for activities leading to the revision of telecom laws and full liberalization of the country’s international telecom gateway.
The government stated that deregulation will safeguard open access to the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable, which is expected to be operational before the end of the year.

The ACE system is a 17,000-km cable that will serve 23 countries between France and South Africa and be the first submarine line to land in The Gambia, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Sao Tomé & Principe, and Sierra Leone. It will connect via terrestrial fiber networks the landlocked countries of Mali and Niger.
“Towards this end, the GoSL [Government of Sierra Leone] intends to liberalize the international gateway before the cable is commercialized,” the government announced in a statement. “The GoSL also intends to revise the existing Telecommunications Act to reverse the monopoly of Sierratel over the GoSL international telecommunications and internet gateway.”
To date, the gateway has been monopolized by the national carrier, Sierratel, giving it a strong financial footing as it provides services to other telcos such as Sierra Leone’s three major GSM providers Airtel, Africell and Comium, as well as ISPs.
According to the action plan and timeline released, legislation to amend the Telecommunications Act of 2006 by repealing applicable provisions and replacing them with those that end international gateway monopoly, would be introduced by Feb. 15.
A consultant that would review and revise the Act “to bring it into conformity with international best practices” would be selected by April 15 and an initial draft of the revised Act would be submitted to the government and other stakeholders by July 15.
There would be public consultations on the draft till July 30, final recommendation for the act would be submitted to the government by Aug. 5 and approval of the final recommendation would be obtained by Aug. 15. Finally, legislation to replace the Telecommunication Act of 2006 with the final revised act would be introduced by Sept. 15.
For years, telcos have called for the liberalization of the international gateway in Sierra Leone. After they launched the Sierra Leone GSM Operators Association SLGSMOA in 2008, the telcos called for a transparent examination of its allocation.
While commemorating the landing of the ACE fiber cable in Freetown last year, President Ernest Koroma cited the liberalization of the gateway as one of the challenges to complete the implementation of the fiber optic system in the country.
With the current timeline, it is likely that the liberalization of Sierra Leone’s gateway would be achieved this year, with the government divesting at least 50 percent of its interest in the ACE consortium to the private sector before commencement of commercial operations

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