BACKGROUND TO NEW LICENSING FRAMEWORK FOR TELECOMMUNICATIONS IN UGANDA

BACKGROUND

Licensing of providers of communication services is one of the core functions of the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) under section 5(1)(b) of the Uganda Communications Act 2013(the Act). UCC uses licensing as a regulatory tool for the attainment of the Commission’s strategic objective of being a world-class regulator of communication services. Licensing decisions are supposed to be guided by changes in the general legal framework, government policy and technological developments in the communications sector in Uganda and beyond.

Following the liberalisation of the communication sector in 1997 and the issuance of the National Operator license to MTN in 1998 and UTL in 2000. As the sector became more attractive to new operators, a new licensing framework was adopted in 2006, thereby introducing a new range of licenses, with the focus on distinguishing between service provision and infrastructure service provision. These co-existed with the national operator licenses as well as the cellular license. The new regime lifted the duopoly, focused on technological neutrality and introduced a subsidy provision approach through open competitive bidding subject to availability of scarce resources such as spectrum and numbers.

SUMMARY OF CURRENT FRAMEWORK

In line with the above, the licensing regime has for the last 13 years been categorised as follows:

Telecommunications Infrastructure

The Public Infrastructure Provider (PIP) License: This license category was introduced in 2006 in line with the Communications (Telecommunications Policy) Guidelines gazetted on 11th May 2006, and the Communications (Telecommunications Infrastructure) Ministerial Policy gazette No. 241 of 20th October 2006. This license is granted to entities that establish commercial communication infrastructure facilities in Uganda (regardless of the form of technology) and permits holders to install facilities associated with transmission, reception and switching of electronic signals. This PIP license is for fifteen (15) years.

Infrastructure is defined in the 2006 Ministerial guidelines as plant, equipment and systems associated with transmission, reception and switching of telecommunications (electronic signals). This category of license applies to both passive and active infrastructure providers

Telecommunication’s services

The Public Services Provider (PSP) Licence. This license category was also introduced in 2006. A Public Services Provider (PSP) license is granted to entities that deliver, voice, data, audiovisual content and other services through the infrastructure facilities. The license is valid for a period five (5) years.

This license category is further classified into the following sub-categories:

  • PSP-Voice and Data services. This license is granted to cellular operators, mobile virtual network operators (“MVNO”), fixed voice service operators, global mobile personal communications by satellite (“GMPCS”), Internet telephony networks, Internet exchange services (“IXPSs”) and Virtual Private Networks (“VPNs).
  • PSP- Capacity Resale Services. This license is granted to operators who engage in resale of leased telecommunications services. The licence permits the holder to buy wholesale capacity from a local or foreign operator and retail the same to PSPs.

General Authorization.

Authorisations are granted to providers of non-core telecommunications services.

Authorised entities in this category are not required to pay licence fees, but UCC requires them to register and obtain a Certificate endorsing their provision of communication services to the public. The main objective of this authorisation is to ensure consumer protection and establish a mechanism for regulating the work and services provided by the authorised entity.

Under the current licensing framework, UCC divided general authorisations into two broad types:

  • General authorisation for Public Pay Communications Network services. This applies to operators of phone bureaus, communications kiosks, cyber and Internet cafés as well as fax bureaus. With the increase in the use of mobile phones to offer services that were originally meant to be offered by holders of this authorisation, the UCC has in the recent past not been issuing these authorisations.
  • General authorisation for Private networks. This is granted to persons who establish network facilities for the sole use of members of the owning body/entity in a private closed user group, not providing network servicesfor commercial gain. 

Equipment vendors and installers providing Customer services and internal block wiring services

This category of license targets vendors, installers and providers of block wiring services. Whereas operators in this space are not providers of core telecommunication services, their services have the potential to affect the quality of service provided by licensed communication service providers. By subjecting providers of these ancillary services to strict conditions, UCC seeks to ensure that the equipment installed or the services offered by the subject providers do not compromise the quality of services offered by the mainstream telecommunication service providers.

National Telecommunications Operator (NTO) licence

The NTO license was issued as a major license under the now-repealed Communications Act, 1997 Cap 106, and the telecom policy of 1996. A holder of an NTO license is allowed to provide all types of infrastructure and telecommunication services, under the same license. This license was granted to MTN Uganda Limited in 1998 and Uganda Telecom Limited in 2000.

Spectrum assignments

UCC grants specific authorisation for the use of the radio frequency spectrum in Uganda under sections 5(1)(c), 21, 24 and 25 of the Act.

Where the installation of infrastructure and/or provision of communications services is subject to prior issuance of a license by the Commission, the spectrum authorisation for the use of the associated radio frequencies is granted separately after obtaining the underlying telecommunications or broadcasting license. However, installations and operations that are based on the use of license-exempt radio frequency bands such as the Industrial Scientific and Medical (ISM) band obtain the respective operating license (telecommunications or broadcasting) and use the particular spectrum under a class spectrum authorisation issued by the Commission for the respective band.

Allocation and assignment of spectrum is dependent on several considerations including Government policies, the availability of spectrum, interference management, the spectrum resource needs of the operator/licensee, and harmonisation with international regulations. It should be noted all the license described above, and authorisation categories were saved by section 90 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013.

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