On 8 November 2019, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and National Guidance (“MICT”) released a set of regulations providing for a new licensing framework for telecommunications operators and the regulation of previously unregulated areas. The regulations have transformed the licensing and regulatory framework and telecommunications operators will need to put systems and structures in place to effectively transition and adapt.

The new licensing regime becomes effective on 1 July 2020. Licences that were previously granted under the existing licensing regime won't be renewed and all licensees whose term expired during this license review period and have been operating on provisional authorisation, will have to apply to transition to the new framework.

National Broadband Policy, 2018

The regulations were passed with the aim of implementing the National Broadband Policy, 2018. The policy was developed to harness Uganda's potential to exploit ICTs for economic development through proper planning and infrastructural development in the ICT sector to achieve affordability, digital inclusion and connectivity for all. The policy proposed reforms in a number of areas. The key highlights of the new telecommunications regulations include national and regional licensing, universal connectivity, infrastructure sharing, regulation of cost pricing and consumer protection.

Licensing regulations

Under these regulations,  public service providers' (“PSPs”) and public infrastructure providers' (“PIPs”) licences have been categorised into national and regional licences to achieve universal connectivity for the entire Ugandan population. Currently, telecommunications networks are concentrated in the greater Kampala area.

  • National telecommunications operator licence

The national telecommunications operator (“NTO”) licence allows the licence holder to establish and provide telecommunications infrastructure and services as well as value-added services across the entire country and is issued for a duration of 20 years. A party who seeks to provide both PSP and PIP services covering a large part of the country will need to apply for an NTO licence. The geographical coverage specifications are to be determined by guidelines issued by the Uganda Communications Commission (“UCC”).

  • Public service providers licence

The PSP licence, which covers public voice, data and capacity resale services, will be issued either at a national level or a regional level depending on the applicant's level of geographical coverage and specific to the zones designated by the UCC for a duration of five years. They will be able to obtain infrastructure services from NTOs and PIPs in the designated areas as well as entering into roaming agreements limited to the licensed region.

  • Public infrastructure providers licence

The PIP licence enables the holder to establish, install and provide infrastructure services across the designated geographical area of the country and will also be issued either at a national or regional level. The licence holder will be licensed to roll-out and provide infrastructure in the designated geographic zones for 15 years and will be eligible for spectrum allocation subject to availability in licensed region. The PIPs will be obligated to host or lease out infrastructure services to PSPs for regional roll-out of services within their respective licensed zones. They will also be obligated to share active and passive infrastructure including national roaming.

In addition to these regulations, the UCC recently released guidelines on the licence application requirements and fees payable under the new licensing regime. These guidelines designate four spectrum service regions for purposes of licence applications and the licensing fees vary depending on the region in respect to which the application is made. The UCC will only assign spectrum to NTOs, National PIP and Regional PIP licence holders. Other licensees will need to utilise these licence holders' infrastructures.

Other key aspects of these regulations include the regulation of mergers and acquisitions in the telecommunications sector; licensing and regulation of value added services including digital financial services that will apply to mobile money services, mobile electronic payment solutions and mobile lending services among others, broadcasting and radio services, regulation of video, film and cinema operators, courier and postal services; and rules relating to management and use of frequency spectrum.

Interconnection and access regulations

These regulations provide for:

  • interconnection and access;
  • mechanisms for the interoperability of communications networks, systems, and facilities through measures aimed at ensuring equality of access and universality;
  • delivery and mutual exchange of communications services;
  • commercial leasing arrangements for network infrastructure, facilities, systems, components or elements;
  • the prevention of operators and service providers with significant market power in interconnect and access markets from abusing their positions; protect access seekers and other third parties from artificial barriers erected by operators to protect their market share and products' offering from competition;
  • compliance with technical standards by setting out rights and obligations of operators, third parties and service providers in infrastructure and services markets in regard to interconnection and access requests;
  • the establishment of a dispute resolution mechanism for access and interconnection disputes;
  • charging principles for access and interconnection of networks and infrastructure facilities and services;
  • infrastructure sharing frameworks to limit duplication of infrastructure in the delivery of communications services.

Universal service regulations

The regulations are aimed at ensuring universal connectivity by providing access and availability of quality and basic communications services at affordable rates, including providing services to persons with disabilities, persons in rural, sparsely populated, high-cost service areas and other specified areas in accordance with the schedule 6 to the UCC Act. The regulations also define a set of communications services to be provided by national operators throughout the country. They ensure that rural and high-cost areas have access to communication and information services at prices reasonably comparable with those offered in urban areas, establish a mechanism for sharing net costs among operators and ensure that adequate arrangements are in place to monitor the delivery of universal service and review of its level from time-to-time.

Universal service and access fund regulations

The regulations provide for the establishment of a universal service and access fund to facilitate access to universal service for the development of rural communications and information and communications technology in the country; provide for the appointment of a fund manager; provide for operating procedures of the fund; and regulate the utilisation of monies of the fund.

Consumer protection regulations

The regulations make provision for the promotion and safeguarding of interests of consumers and operators; empower the UCC to receive, investigate and determine consumer complaints relating to communications services offered by the UCC; and provide for the investigation of any consumer related complaints referred to the UCC by the Minister of ICT.

Competition regulations

The regulations aim to:

  • promote efficiency and competitiveness of communications services in Uganda;
  • ensure that communications services are reasonably accessible and fairly priced;
  • ensure that communications services are supplied as efficiently and economically as is practicable and at performance standards that meet the social, industrial and commercial needs of Uganda;
  • promote and maintain fair and efficient market conduct and effective competition among all persons engaged in commercial activities connected with the communications sector in Uganda;
  • encourage, facilitate and promote industry self-regulation in the communications industry in Uganda
  • encourage, facilitate and promote investment; and
  • establish, develop and expand the communications industry in Uganda.

Pricing and accounting regulations

The regulations establish a framework for pricing of communications services to:

  • ensure that prices charged to consumers are reasonable, efficient, cost-oriented, non-discriminatory and reflect optimum consumer satisfaction;
  • ensure the promotion of operation efficiency and resource utilisation;
  • ensure the disclosure of accounting information and records as a basis of deriving or determining cost-oriented prices;
  • establish an accounting system in the communications sector that is consistent, reliable, comparable and stable in financial reporting;
  • require operators to implement transparent cost accounting systems and costing frameworks, reflecting the costs of efficient service provision;
  • promoting fair competition by ensuring that charges are cost-oriented, transparent and non-discriminatory; and regulating pricing for communications infrastructure to ease interconnection, co-location, provision of access and sharing where applicable.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.