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4G licencing runs into scandal in Ghana, lawmakers wade in

A puzzle surrounding how and why a fairly new company, Busy Ghana, suddenly acquired 4G licence without due process is now raising dusts in the country.

Besides, the company is not even on the National Communications Authority’s (NCA) website as Broadband Wireless Access operators (BWAs), telecoms or even internet service providers (ISPs),

In the minds of the Ghanaian parliamentarians, the deal remains a “back door” 4G authorization and should not stand.

Business Hilights recalls that MTN paid $67.5 million for its 4G license, and three BWAs including Surfline, Blu and Goldkey paid $6million each for theirs, but Busy Ghana and Telesol got mere authorization to do 4G for an alleged meager fee of $60,000 per annum.

The lawmakers in their recent meeting with officials of the Broadband Communications Chamber (BBCC), expressed worry on the deal, saying their target is to sanitize the 4G space and strengthen local content among others industry issues.

The leading question put across to NCA and BBCC was “How did Busy Internet become a licensed 4G operator since they seemed to have acquired their 4G licence through the ‘backdoor’ especially as they paid less for their 4G license than other 4G providers?”

But responding, members of the Chamber explained that whereas the licenses were for periods between 10 to 15 years and for nationwide coverage, the authorization given to Busy Ghana is for a limited period and a restricted coverage area.

In a quick reaction, lawmakers saw the reason as negating the rules of fairness and uniformity because some companies have made attempts to also get into the 4G space but have been prevented by the NCA on the grounds of unfairness to MTN.

Details show that Vodafone tried to partner Surfline, and Tigo tried to partner Comsys but both were denied.

Besides, the Chamber also revealed that when Holland-based 4G player, Afrimax was reported to be acquiring Busy Internet then, NCA kept the deal under wraps until it was done, to prevent local players from raising genuine questions.

Whereas the parliamentarians queried why the BWAs have not been able to expand quickly since they got their 4G licenses years before MTN did, the Chamber members explained that the NCA initially promised to give them exclusivity till 2019 as a way of protecting them against the giant multinationals who have the financial muscle to deplete value for the local BWAs, but NCA went back on its promise without notice.

In their further submission, the Chamber members observed that for NCA to allow telecoms market leader MTN and Busy Ghana into the space in 2016, BWA investors pulled back because they were not sure of recouping their investments due to stiff competition with MTN.

They cited an example of how the then 4G market leader, Surfline, which took off on the back of 250 sites across Accra-Tema, had to crawl back and depend on only 12 sites to provide service.

The Chambers also informed the lawmakers that “Now our investors and other potential investors have lost the appetite for greenfield start-ups in the country’s 4G space. They would prefer partnership between BWAs and MNOs (telcos), which promises some value but the NCA has also put a hold on such partnerships”.

However, the Chambers said they are hopeful that the assurance of the Communications Minister, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful that government will find a way to work with the local broadband players to grow connectivity and penetration will change things for the better.

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