Infrastructure Sharing debate: What should we take from the State vs Econet standoff?

   

Over the last couple of months, particularly the last couple of days there has been a lot of hell and dust raised in the telecoms infrastructure sharing debate culminating with some startling threats this week from a government minister.

Government’s unusual ultimatum for a local telecoms operator(Econet) to dismantle entire shared base stations and fiber optic cables in time for Easter if they don’t choose to quietly fall in line with government’s wishes, is tantamount to derailing the entire debate and a poor attempt by the authorities to form consensus where logical and open debate is necessary. Whether the targeted company in this case is the villain in your books or not is beside the point.

Despite present appearances in Zimbabwe, infrastructure sharing is nothing new or unusual, in fact, it is emerging as the norm in many places. However, it is not uniform in execution.

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In different parts of the world, infrastructure sharing has been rolled out and regulated differently.Sharing the ground on which different towers are built, sharing a single tower or power generator (passive infrastructure), or sharing the electronic equipment and spectrum itself (active infrastructure) are all different incarnations of infrastructure sharing.

While some governments influence infrastructure sharing others demand it. In all successful cases where infrastructure sharing has worked, authorities are known to rely on public support, government policy and economic incentive with a touch of regulation and law to skew economic activity towards the desired outcome.

Many governments have successfully crafted regulations and incentives that have seen operators willfully transfer their infrastructure to independent tower companies in billion-dollar commercial transactions that have created jobs and new opportunities. It requires a lot of competence, intellect, foresight and tact on the part of government.

In our case our government is taking a uniquely destructive yet all too familiar approach. They are demanding an immediate outcome, making pronouncements and issuing ultimatums and deadlines before they craft a coherent and acceptable policy.

This, as usual, creates panic and confusion in the entire ecosystem while keeping both foreign and local players at bay and the public in prayer. Perhaps it is about time our government privately engages local think tanks and international experts, hires experienced talent from around the world to staff stream-lined and independent regulatory bodies that come out with sound policies, not bizarre tactics and public threats to dismantle the internet on a whim.

Isn’t it time we have regular public popularity polls that measure public sentiment and support in relation to government actions on important issues?


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