Case Study Single Sector Regulator: Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA) [6.1.1]

The Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA), is an independent regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry.  It was established in December 1996, under the Telecommunications Act, (No. 15 of 1996).  The BTA is vested with authority to regulate and supervise all aspects of telecommunication common carriers and service providers that fall under its jurisdiction.  Although there is a broadcasting regulation department within BTA, the organization effectively serves as the Secretariat to the National Broadcasting Board (NBB)1- a separate government entity - and advises the NBB on technical matters.

Legal Status

BTA was created in December 1996 as a parastatal under Part II of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, meaning that it is a body corporate with a common seal, capable of suing and being sued, and, subject to the provisions of the Act, of performing such acts as bodies corporate may, by law, perform.  The enactment of the 1996 Telecommunications Act also led to the amendment of the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) Act of 1980 to allow for competition in the industry and the termination of BTC’s monopoly, as well as its dual role as a regulator and an operator.

The 1996 Telecommunications Act as amended by the Telecommunications (amendment) Act, 2004, details the functions, powers and duties of BTA.  BTA is empowered to “supervise and promote the provision of efficient telecommunications services in Botswana.” BTA’s legislative mandate reflects the nation's desire to expand the reach of basic telecommunications services, and more specifically to improve the level and quality of service provision at the time the Act was passed.

Specifically, the Act grants BTA the power to publish principles to be applied in the setting of tariffs and to approve tariffs.  The legislation further grants BTA the exclusive right to award licences, to establish a national radio frequency plan, monitor radio frequency use, resolve interconnection disputes and charge and retain regulatory fees. The Telecommunications (Amendment) Act of 2004, however, imposes that the Authority shall seek the approval of the Minister on all decisions made in relation to applications for fixed line telephony licences and cellular telephony licences. The 2004 Act also gives the Minister the power decide on the form and the fee of licence applications but the Board of BTA retains the power to make recommendations regarding these questions to the Minister.

Under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, BTA reports to the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology.  BTA is required to submit to the Minister an annual report on its yearly operation together with an audited report of its financial accounts. The Minister is required to submit these documents to the National Assembly to ensure accountability.

Under the 2004 Telecommunications (Amendment) Act, BTA must submit five year strategic plans to the Minister outlining:
(a) The goals of the Authority
(b) The objectives of the Authority
(c) The budget of the Authority; and
(d) Any other matter which the Minister may direct.

BTA has almost complete financial independence.  Under the 1996 Act, the Minister approves spending only for non-regulatory activities.  Since its first year of operation, BTA has financed its budget exclusively through regulatory fees and investment income. However, in 2004, the Telecommunications (Amendment) Act 2004 requires that the Authority submits an annual plan to the Minister for his approval at least three months before the beginning of each financial year, outlining:
(a) The goals of the Authority
(b) The objectives of the Authority
(c) The budget of the Authority; and
(d) Any other matter which the Minister may direct for that financial year.

The regulatory authority prepares its own budget every year, covering operational and procurement expenses.  Each director submits a budget proposal to the Chief Executive accounting for all operational and non-operational costs.  The Chief Executive bases his budget allocation decisions on the Authority’s priorities as set out on a yearly basis.  The final proposal is submitted to the BTA Board of Directors, which is empowered to approve the budget.  

Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, BTA is subject to an annual audit by an independent audit firm.  In addition, BTA’s financial reports are submitted to the Auditor General, apart from submission to the Minister, who has the right to advise the government that BTA’s books should be inspected.

BTA Core Purpose

The core purpose of BTA is defined as being to create a transparent enabling regulatory environment for service providers to deliver quality and affordable communications in Botswana, including:

  • managing the frequency spectrum;
  • resolving industry disputes;
  • setting industry standards;
  • setting tariff principles and appropriate guidelines;
  • acting as responsible, accountable referee in industry to facilitate investment and universal service; and
  • facilitating and promoting an environment that ensures protection of end-users.

BTA also aims to ensure compliance with the communication service regulatory framework through the management and monitoring of:

  • service quality;
  • customer satisfaction levels;
  • broadcast content;
  • the frequency spectrum; and
  • terms and licence conditions.

BTA also aims to research communications regulation, best practice communications services and industry performance so as to:

  • advise government on policy formulation;
  • establish communications regulatory policies; and
  • inform industry and consumers.

BTA also aims to promote and encourage efficient communication services so as to attract investment, to promote capacity building within communications industry, and to represent Botswana interest in the International communications arena and communications issues.

Organizational Objectives:

  • Facilitating entry of new service providers into the market;
  • Managing the frequency spectrum efficiently in order to maximize frequency availability;
  • Making provision, to the extent necessary and in accordance with the Botswana Government Policy, for the financing of universal service in areas where this would otherwise be uneconomic and for special tariffs for disadvantaged users;
  • Promoting the development of user representation and instituting consumer protection measure; and
  • Developing BTA as a dynamic, open, transparent and respected organization with highly competent and well motivated staff.

Responsibilities:

The main responsibilities of BTA, as set out in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 can be grouped into seven broad functions:

  • Promotion of provision of telecommunications services throughout Botswana - this is intended to ensure universal access to telecommunications services throughout the country;
  • Licensing and type approval - the Authority is the licensing body for telecommunications services, networks and radio frequency users. To ensure the integrity of the public network, the Authority type approves terminal equipment that are connected to the public network;
  • Consumers and Users Protection - BTA has to ensure that the interests of consumers, purchasers, and other users of telecommunications services are promoted as regards prices, quality and variety of services and equipment;
  • Frequency Management - the Authority is charged with the responsibility of establishing and maintaining a radio frequency plan and promulgation of appropriate regulations and standards to ensure the efficient use of the spectrum, which is a scarce national resource;
  • Price Control - the Authority approves tariffs for fixed and cellular telephone service operators. This is one aspect of protection of consumers in that, while ensuring that investors make a reasonable return on investment BTA has an important obligation to ensure that users are not charged unreasonably high tariffs;
  • Promotion and Maintenance of Competition - the Authority promotes competition by, among other means, licensing suppliers of telecommunications services and equipment. Detailed competition rules, designed to discourage anti-competitive behaviour on the part of telecommunications operators and suppliers which the Authority must enforce are found in section 48 of the Act; and
  • Settlement of Disputes - as a quasi-judicial body, BTA settles disputes between users and telecommunications' operators and disputes between, and amongst, operators.

In addition to its statutory functions listed above the Authority is also an advisor to government on general telecommunications policy.  BTA also acts as the Botswana Government's representative in regional and international bodies that deal with telecommunications in general and telecommunications regulation in particular.

Financing

BTA has almost complete financial independence, although since 2004 there has been the need to seek the approval from the Minister for the annual plan, which includes the budget of the Authority.  Ever since its first year of operation, BTA has financed its budget exclusively through regulatory fees and investment income.

BTA prepares its own budget every year, covering operational and procurement expenses.  Each director submits a budget proposal to the Executive Chairperson accounting for all operational and non – operational costs.  The Executive Chairperson bases his budget allocation decisions on the Authority’s priorities as set out on a yearly basis.

The final proposal is submitted to the BTA Board of Directors, which is empowered to approve the budget.  The budget is then included in the annual plan, which is submitted to the Minister for approval.  Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, BTA is subject to an annual audit by an independent audit firm.  In addition, BTA’s financial reports are submitted to the Auditor General, apart from submission to the Minister, who has the right to advise the government that BTA’s books should be inspected.

BTA received a government appropriation of BWP 4.2 million in its first year in order to launch its operation (an allocation that was worth about USD 1 million at the time.)  It has been completely self sufficient ever since with the exception of a grant of BWP 2.2 million in 2001 to fund the first phase of the spectrum-planning project.  The initial government allocation was in addition to BWP 4 million from the Botswana and Swedish governments to finance the costs of two Swedish consultants during the initial phase of BTA’s operations.  The 50/50 funding from the government of Botswana and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) continued through the year 2000.

Ninety per cent of BTA’s annual budget is financed directly by regulatory fees.  Seventy nine per cent is financed through service and systems licence fees.  Eleven per cent of the budget comes from radio licence fees, based on the number of transmitters.  Operators are charged licence fees levied at 5 per cent of their net annual turnover and separate radio licence fees for spectrum.

Reporting

Under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, BTA reports to the Minister of Works, Transport and Communication.  BTA is required to submit to the Minister an annual report on its yearly operation together with an audited report of its financial accounts.  The Minister is required to submit these documents to the National Assembly to ensure accountability.

Management

Under the 1996 Act, the Minister for Science, Communications and Technology appointed all five members of the board.  The Telecommunications Act of 1996 also established that the Minister will appoint:

  • one person responsible for finance,
  • one person responsible for commerce,
  • one person to “represent the business community”, and
  • one person to “represent the domestic users of telecommunications services.”

The First five-member BTA Board was established on 20 December 1996 in accordance with the 1996 Telecommunications Act.  Under the Act, the Chief Executive must possess “such experience and training as the Minister may prescribe or approve” and must demonstrate “that he is competent to carry out the functions of the Authority.”

The 1996 Act was amended by the 2004 Telecommunications (Amendment) Act, which states that the Minister appoints the five Members of the Board, who are appointed from amongst persons whom the Minister considers qualified by reason of their experience or expertise in:

(a)        information and communication technology
(b)        law
(c)        consumer protection
(d)        financial accounting
(e)        economics; or
(f)         general business management.

The 2004 Act also states that the Minister shall appoint the Chairperson of the Board, while the Vice Chairperson shall be appointed by the members of the Board from among their number. The Board oversees the BTA and approves decisions related to policy and regulation, but makes no decisions on the day-to-day management of BTA.  For example, it was the BTA Board - with the help of external experts and the advice of BTA senior officials - that awarded the two GSM licences.  Similarly, BTA’s first public consultation document was brought to the Board for its approval prior to being released.  In addition, the board approves BTA’s annual budget and any additional expenditure of a significant nature not included in the annual budget.  The Board also provides guidance to BTA on numerous other issues (e.g., staff training and pensions).  Although the Board is responsible for these decisions, it relies heavily on the expertise of BTA staff in making its decisions.

The legislation authorizes the Board to delegate any of its powers and functions to the Chief Executive (or Executive Chairperson) or any other officer of the Authority.  Likewise, the Chief Executive may delegate his powers to any senior officer of the Authority.

According to the Telecommunications Act, the Board has delegated certain powers to the Executive Chairperson.  The Executive Chairperson takes certain decisions and simply reports them to the board at its meetings.  For example, the Executive Chairperson rendered the 1998 interconnection decision on his own, reporting it to the board at a later time.  There are no rules delineating which decisions should be taken by the full board and which the Executive Chairperson may reach on his own.  Therefore it is an informed decision of the Executive Chairperson to take such a decision taking into account collective responsibility.

Staffing

BTA staff is currently divided into nine departments, each headed by a Director and a General Counsel in charge of legal services.  The nine departments are:

  • Engineering Services
  • Market Development and Analysis
  • Broadcasting Regulation
  • Communications and Public Affairs
  • Finance
  • Human Resources and Administration
  • Legal Services
  • Compliance and Consumer Affairs
  • Information Technology and Security Audit

Each of the nine departments is further divided into units headed by a Manager.  For example, the Departments of Communications and Consumer Affairs have a Manager of Communications and a Manager of Consumers Affairs respectively.

The office of General Counsel, (Legal Services) is headed by an attorney and includes three other attorneys called Counsels.  The current Executive Chairperson is also a lawyer, bringing the number of lawyers to four, nearly 10 per cent of BTA staff members.

ENDNOTES

1 The National Broadcasting Board (NBB) was set up by an Act of Parliament, the Broadcasting Act, 1998 (No. 6 of 1999).  The Board consists of eleven members who were appointed in August 2000. The Nominating Committee that was set up in accordance with Section 8 of the Broadcasting Act, 1998, nominated the Board.  The functions of the Board as stated in Section 10 of the Broadcasting Act of 1998 are:

(a) to issue broadcasting licences,
(b) to exercise control over and to supervise broadcasting activities, including the relaying of radio and television programmes from places in and out of Botswana to places in and outside Botswana,
(c) to allocate available spectrum resources in such manner as to ensure the widest possible diversity of programming and optimal utilisation of the spectrum resources.
(d) The Board is also responsible for monitoring and handling complaints against broadcasting stations.

Before the establishment of NBB, the Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA) was regulating and monitoring the broadcasting sector in Botswana.

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