The process of restructuring the telecommunication sector truly got under way in Cameroon in June 1995, when the authorities decided thoroughly to reform network industry sectors such as water, electricity and telecommunications with a view to creating a favourable environment in which to develop their infrastructure and services and thus to satisfy increasingly exigent demand. The process took the form of liberalization, State withdrawal from the sectors concerned and the establishment of a market structure enabling Cameroon to remain in step with the especially rapid global developments in the telecommunication sector; indeed, in spite of the investments made, the coverage rate and quality of service offered had remained largely inadequate. The process was carried out not only by defining the conditions and mechanisms liable to guarantee the sector’s opening to private initiative, but also by enacting regulations and taking measures intended to enable the sector to play the decisive role incumbent on it in Cameroon’s economic development.
Telecommunication sector reform in Cameroon is not limited to the establishment of new regulations and legislation, to the revision of the institutional framework and the establishment of an interconnection regime or to the introduction of competition. It should also comprise bringing behaviour in line with the times. One of our chief concerns is therefore also effective application of the regulations with a view to fulfilling the universal service obligation, ensuring consumer protection and providing for effective and appropriate regulation of true competition. The acquisition of the required know-how is the biggest challenge we face. The institutional players on Cameroon’s telecommunications scene are, as in many other African countries, of the opinion that any society that delays in jumping on the NTIC train will remain mired in a state of underdevelopment.
Before 1990, as in most African countries, telecommunication services were managed by a national publicly-owned monopoly. The administration in charge of telecommunications set the rules, ensured they were applied and was itself an operator. The results did not always live up to expectations. In June 1990, the President of the Republic signed the order on the programme to privatize public and semi-public enterprises. The telecommunication sector was added to the programme in June 1995. In July 1998, law 98/014 governing telecommunications in Cameroon (the Telecommunications Act) was promulgated.
It established the Telecommunication Regulatory Agency and attributed sector responsibilities to a variety of players: the operation of telecommunication networks to operators, regulatory matters, i.e. application of the rules and supervision of operators, to a regulatory body, the definition of sector policy and the enactment of market regulations to the telecommunication administration. In September of the same year, two public enterprises, CAMTEL for the fixed telephone service and CAMTEL MOBILE for the mobile telephone service, were set up to take over the telecommunication activities of the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications and of the public enterprise INTELCAM, which was in charge of operating and developing international telecommunication installations.
The Telecommunication Regulatory Agency was set up at the same time. Immediately after, the sale of a mobile telephone licence and the process of privatizing CAMTEL and CAMTEL MOBILE got under way. In June 1999, a mobile telephone licence was granted to a private enterprise. The privatization of CAMTEL MOBILE was completed in February 2000. The privatization of CAMTEL is not yet complete. A third mobile telephone licence is to be issued. In less than two years, the sector has undergone sweeping change. Suffice it to mention one indicator: in January 2000 there was one mobile telephone operator with about 5 000 subscribers; on 31 March 2001 there were two operators with over 140 000 subscribers. This rapid and in-depth transformation is taking place within a constantly improving legal framework.
A liberal legal framework
The development of new technologies and liberalization have permitted access to new telecommunication services which, depending on their specific natures, require appropriate regulation. The Telecommunications Act sets forth a new regulatory framework, opening the telecommunication sector to competition. The framework, which distinguishes between public and private networks, provides for three legal arrangements: concessions, authorizations and declarations.
The State can grant one or several public or private corporate bodies all or part of its rights to establish and/or operate telecommunication networks. The concession is subject to strict compliance with the requirements set forth in a list of terms and conditions. This arrangement allows the State not only to keep a watchful eye on the harmonious development of modern telecommunication infrastructure, but also and above all to heighten its control over the development and supply of the basic services and facilities us ually demanded by the majority of users.
The arrangement of prior authorization applies to the establishment and/or operation of telecommunication networks by physical persons or corporate bodies with a view to providing the public with a basic telecommunication service, a value-added service, a bearer service or any other service by using one or several radio frequencies. A list of terms and conditions containing the requirements to be met is attached to the licence issued to the bearer of a prior authorization. The authorization is issued for a fixed period and can be withdrawn under certain circumstances.
Declarations apply to the establishment of private internal networks, low-range and low-capacity private independent networks (that are not radio networks), low-range and low-capacity radio installations (to be determined by the Administration), and the provision to the public of telecommunication services other than those subject to the arrangements of concession and authorization. Telecommunication terminal equipment is either freely provided or subject to type-approval.
Certain provisions of the Telecommunications Act are detailed in decrees and implementing legislation. We shall not examine all of them here; indeed, some of them are still being drafted. The reform in Cameroon established the separation between the regulatory and operating functions. It works in favour of operators being entities controlled by private capital. The general framework for competition is governed by legislation on competition. The legal framework is supplemented by institutions.
A revised institutional framework The telecommunication administration
Spectrum management and the legislation and regulations relating to telecommunications are the exclusive domain of the State. The telecommunication administration has been invested, on behalf of the government, with general jurisdiction over the sector. It sets the general regulatory framework. It therefore establishes and implements telecommunication sector policy, whose aim must be to safeguard the missions of public service, to promote harmonious network development throughout the national territory and effective private sector participation in the sector’s wealth and employment-generating activities, and to ensure compliance by all operators with the applicable treaties, laws and regulations.
In addition, the administration supervises the telecommunication sector, oversees public telecommunication enterprises, represents the State at international telecommunication-related organizations and events, and manages the radio spectrum on behalf of the State. The Telecommunication Regulatory Agency, which technically answers to the telecommunication administration, is the specialized body in charge of facilitating actual application of the regulations issued.
The Telecommunication Regulatory Agency
The organization of the Telecommunication Regulatory Agency established by the Telecommunications Act is set forth in decree No. 98/197 of 8 September 1998. The Agency has three main duties: – to ensure the regulations are implemented; – to guarantee respect for the regulations and the exercise of competition; – to settle certain disputes between operators. The Agency’s regulatory authority is subject to performance of the following activities: – definition of the principles governing tariffs for services; – examination of requests for authorization and declaration and of type-approval files for terminal equipment to be connected to public networks; – establishment of principles for calculating interconnection costs; – establishment and management of numbering plans; – management of the frequencies attributed to telecommunications; – submission to the government of proposals aimed at developing and modernizing the sector; – opinions on draft legislative and regulatory texts concerning telecommunications;
control and penalties for infractions.
The Agency is specifically competent to settle disputes concerning interconnection, access to a public network, numbering, cases of harmful interference, and sharing of infrastructure. The Telecommunications Act provides the Agency with a quasi-judicial body and an arbitration procedure can be set in motion should one or the other of the parties be opposed. The parties remain free to bring their case before the competent court.
Human resources are the key to management and progress, for they have knowledge, that rarest of economic commodities in the 21st century. The current transition from a monopoly environment to that of controlled competition has given rise to new demands in terms of basic knowledge and know- how in telecommunication regulation. Telecommunication leaders and staff in Cameroon were still dealing with the transition from analogue to digital when circuit switching was suddenly replaced by packet switching. This recent change has reshaped the concept and definition of telecommunication networks and services. Everything must therefore be done to make sure the human resources acquire the skills they need for their own development and that of companies, which create wealth for the well-being of peoples.
The Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Postes et Télécommunications, an independent facility run by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, provides basic instruction in telecommunications and ICT to technicians (technical and operating staff), supervising technicians (operating technicians and supervisors) and senior technical managers (works engineers and operating inspectors). It plans to organize standing professional certification for the staff of public and private enterprises and of the public administrations in charge of telecommunications and ICT.
Cameroon has always been present and active in regional and international telecommunication organizations. It is a member of the Administrative Councils of both the African Telecommunication Union (ATU) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). It has had very few bilateral exchanges of experience and information with other African countries. The ineffectiveness of regional (ATU) and subregional organizations (CAPTAC) has precluded the launch at subregional level of cooperation activities aimed at developing telecommunications in Cameroon. At the international level, ITU has not been closely involved in telecommunication sector reform.
In the past eight years, it has provided some technical assistance but otherwise almost no support for telecommunication development projects in Cameroon, possibly because the Area Office in Yaoundé is not functioning. The capacities of the Area Office in Yaoundé should be reinforced. Its main duties should be: – To disseminate ITU documents and information in the area. For this, it should have the means required to provide the documentation centres of the main players in each of the area’s countries with the documents and books needed to acquire knowledge in telecommunications and ICT, for most of the sector’s African managers will have to teach themselves. In this respect, hard as opposed to electronic copies remain invaluable in Africa.