Interview: Bruno Nabagné Koné
In what ways has the ICT industry benefitted from market liberalisation and privatisation?
BRUNO NABAGNÉ KONÉ: Thanks to a process of market liberalisation that took place at the end of the 1990s, the ICT sector has experienced rapid growth over the last few years. While the government remains in charge of technical aspects like spectrum management, it has delegated some of its prerogatives to private entities. As a result, the country has reached a mobile penetration rate of 80%. Moreover, the government has rehabilitated a great deal of ICT infrastructure in partnership with the private sector, notably with Chinese companies like Huawei. It would have been impossible for the government to support these costs without private help.
With regards to mobile operators, how much room is there for consolidation in the short term?
KONÉ:In the past, seven mobile operators' licences were granted to private operators, but some operators are now experiencing significant financial issues, owing money to the government and incapable of making any kind of investment. Therefore, the government is working on a large restructuring plan, consolidating the market by bringing the number of operators down to four, all of which will achieve greater profitability.
How have recent increases in taxation affected the profitability of the ICT industry?
KONÉ: Each sector is supposed to contribute to the government budget depending on its profitability. Mobile operators generate a turnover of around CFA1trn (€1.5bn) per year in terms of their contribution to GDP, or roughly 6-7%. At the same time, in terms of fiscal revenues, the sector had not been fairly represented in the government’s budget.
To investigate this issue, the government conducted a benchmark study, comparing its fiscal policy to that of neighbouring countries. It accordingly decided to increase taxes slightly for ICT players, notably mobile operators. Given the sector’s profit margins, however, we have not penalised any operators. The government is also making progress in rolling out long-term evolution technologies and WiMAX frequencies. Mobile operators will thus be able to sell a greater amount of data to consumers, generating more revenue.
To what extent can fibre-optic communications increase connectivity in rural areas?
KONÉ: One of the government’s priorities is to continue the extension of the fibre-optic network, which represents a sort of backbone for the country as a whole. The first phase consists of a 2000-km cable deployment, and the second step is to build an additional 5000 km of fibre-optic cable. As both external finance and technical assistance are required, the project will be carried out in partnership with private operators.
Although the state will own the infrastructure, a private entity will manage the network. This will increase connectivity in rural and peri-urban areas. As part of an experimental project, the government has made some progress in connecting rural populations. So far, 1000 villages have been connected with code division multiple access technology, providing residents with access to phones, faxes and an internet connection.
What can the government do to alleviate the economic impact of cyber crimes on the ICT sector?
KONÉ: Cyber criminality is one the biggest challenges the ICT industry is facing worldwide. Within Côte d’Ivoire itself, it has prevented the growth of business with online industry players and slowed the development of e-commerce. Indeed, some larger companies in the call centre business have relocated to other countries due to their fears about cyber criminality.
The government has passed legislation to deal with the scourge of cyber crimes: a law to regulate e-commerce, a law to impose strict sanctions for cyber crimes and a law to ensure personal data protection. In addition to this, we have instituted subscriber identification for mobile phones, fixed lines and the Internet.
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