In his opening statement at Shangri La along, Lumley Beach Road in Freetown, the Deputy Leader of Government business in the House and Chairman of the aforementioned Committee; Hon. Matthew Nyuma enlightened that the workshop is designed to engage and discuss about the operation, expansion, and challenges of the ICT sector and to find possible solutions to ensure that every Sierra Leonean have access to an affordable ICT connection around the country. He added that the Committee through Parliament is ready to selflessly work with all ISPs and GSMs operator in Sierra Leone.
The Deputy Leader of the All People’s Congress in Parliament and Chairman of the workshop, Hon. Ibrahim Ben Kargbo lauded Hon. Nyuma, adding that he initiated the idea to interact with the ICT sector to support their strides to provide quality service. He opined that the Government should continue to collaborate with the ICT sector for it is paramount to achieve the aspiration of the New Direction. He urged every facet of the ICT sector to step up their activities in the country.
In his presentation on their expansion and challenges, The Managing Director of the Sierra Leone Cables Network (SALCAB) Ishmael Kebbay updated that currently, 71% of the overall country’s population has access to connectivity services, while 25% (1.7 million people) is completely uncovered, 4% of the population is partly covered with spillover coverage from towers/cell site in major towns and cities. He added that the rural area is the most underserved market with 31% full coverage penetration, and 75% partial coverage penetration. “We will be activating distribution hubs in major cities and townships to support our clients in reducing the cost of transmission and last mile distribution,” he promised. Mr. Kebbay discussed their challenges, adding that the operation cost per site is high and that most rural sites are off grid in that run on diesel energy costs can be higher than site revenue. He further asserted that in hilly terrain, traditional high sites do not have reduced coverage range, and signals run right across the top of valleys. He also raised concern that revenue per site is low in low population areas; a carrier’s revenue per site is not enough to pay the monthly operating costs of the site as Rural Average Revenue per Subscriber is also low. “OPEX, not CAPEX, is another challenge because even if the network capital is subsidized, it cannot operate if it loses money,” he said.
GSM Operators, including Africell and Orange claimed that they are expanding their networks since they started operating in the country, committing that they would continue to expand until they cover every area around the country. They outlined their challenges, underscoring among other things that taking the fiber optic cable around the country is the major challenge of their expansion strides, adding that access to modern handsets, high tax etc.
The Deputy Minister of Information and Communication: Esq. Solomon Jamiru advised that the importance of ICT should not be trivialized in that it is a core criterion to develop every sector in Sierra Leone. He said that the Government had invested huge sum on the promotion of ICTE. The Minister disclosed that his Ministry is currently planning to review few legal and policy regulations to better transform the ICT sector.
The Chairman of NATCOM, Dr. Prince Harding lauded the initiative of the workshop, noting that no country would develop more than its ICT standard. He said that, as regulators, they would cushion the ICT sector when necessary, emphasizing that consumers are interested in the cost and quality service from the ICT sector. He added NATCOM is created to equally promote the public’s interest and to protect the investment of all ISPs and GSM operators in Sierra Leone.
Other MPs on the aforementioned Committee, said that the ICT sector should strive to provide ICT access in all schools and higher institutions of learning in the country as part of their expansion strides. They recalled that President Bio did emphasize in his New Direction Manifesto that an efficient ICT network improves human life and accelerates economic development. Thus, they urged all facets of the ICT sector to always channel their concerns to the Committee.