NUANCE – December 2008

Carnegie Corporation of New York Grants USD999,520 to UbuntuNet Alliance

UbuntuNet Alliance is pleased to acknowledge with thanks a grant of USD999,520 over three years starting January 2009 to support activities under the ambitious programme of Consolidating Research and Education Networking in Africa.  The Grant, approved subject to other development partners who participated in the Lilongwe Development Partners Forum giving similar support, will support capacity building for the member NRENs, the annual conference, and consultancy support for the Alliance.  The grant will also provide institutional support (including governance meetings) to permit UbuntuNet time to grow sustainable revenue streams.

European Union Feasibility Study (FEAST) for EC support to REN activities in Africa kicks off

The State of Readiness will be assessed through the questionnaire that has been circulated to all NRENS (also posted on the UbuntuNet website sites/default/files/20081024-country-status-questionaire.doc).  It is therefore imperative that each NREN that hopes to benefit responds to this questionnaire.   UbuntuNet Alliance has offered to work with any member NREN that does not meet the minimum requirements to ensure that they are achieved within the required time frame.

As part of the activities, a FEAST delegation comprising Prof Bjorn Pehrson of the KTH and Mr Anders Comstedt, a well-known telecommunications consultant, are visiting various countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, and arrived in Maputo on Sunday 18 January 2009.  UbuntuNet arranged for representatives of the Southern Cluster NRENs to travel to Maputo to workshop the cross-border requirements on 19 January 2009.  In addition to the two FEAST visitors, Mr Jussi Haikkanen (MoRENet), Dr Gilford Hapanyengwi (Zimbabwe), Mr Bonny Khunga (ZAMREN), Dr Duncan Martin (TENET), Dr Jameson Mbale (NAMREN), Dr Americo Muchanga (MoRENet) and Mr Anthony Muyepa (MAREN) participated in the workshop.

UbuntuNet is grateful to Mr Haikkanen and Dr Muchanga for making the local accommodation and workshop arrangements, and acknowledges with thanks the grant from TENET’s FRENIA Program which covered the travel and accommodation costs of the NREN representatives.

A similar event for the Eastern Cluster countries, hosted by the Tanzania Research and Education Network (TERNET), is planned for the 28th January 2009 in Dar es Salaam.

Overview of Telecommunications Policy and Regulatory Environment vis a vis REN Activities in the UbuntuNet membership Region

by Dr Lishan Adam & Dr F F Tusubira

As part of the Master Plan and Strategy development process, UbuntuNet Alliance carried out a situational survey of the telecommunications sector policy and regulatory environments covering 22 countries in the membership region. The specific focus was impact on research and education networking activities.  Our intent in the survey was not simply a data gathering exercise: it informs our strategy for planning, along with the NRENs, approaches for working with policy makers and regulators towards more conducive environments and, like sailing against the wind, creating success despite the challenges.
We found the following to be the key environmental barriers to access to broadband communication:

  • Slow reforms in the communication sector
  • Inadequate access to backbone infrastructure at affordable prices
  • Inadequate policies and regulation with regards to ownership and access to essential infrastructure by universities and research institutions

Slow sector reform: Policies and regulation that govern access to spectrum; ownership of fiber infrastructure such as dark fiber; and interconnection and tariffs are often unfavourable, and also vary widely. Some governments in the region such as Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda have made progress in reforming their telecommunications sector policy, legal and regulatory environments, and also adopted technology neutral converged regulatory frameworks that promote access to broadband infrastructure.  Others like Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Swaziland still favour monopoly and restrictive regimes that hamper academic institutions’ ownership and operation of broadband fibre and wireless networks.

Access to broadband Infrastructure: A critical aspect of high speed connectivity is ensuring that national and international fiber access is available and affordable.  Bandwidth to sub-Saharan Africa still comes through a single submarine cable—the South Atlantic Telephony-3/West African Submarine Cable (SAT-3/WASC, or SAFE) or via satellite connection, which is inherently poor quality and expensive. The price of SAT3 has been kept artificially high because the connection was, until recent limited relaxation, shared by a closed consortium of dominant telephone companies and state monopolies.

The existing backbone infrastructure in the UbuntuNet region is mainly low capacity, wireless-based links designed to carry voice traffic.  Submarine cable projects including SEACOM and The East African Marine Systems (TEAMS) that are expected to be in service in 2009 and the East African Submarine cable System (EASSy) that is expected to be launched in 2010 should, provided they maintain the agreed open access principles, address the international connectivity gaps.   Additional backbone is however required to connect the inland regions and landlocked countries to the landing points: there is a current real likelihood that international fiber with the potential for much cheaper bandwidth will be neutralised to a large extent by the bottlenecks created by the absence of sufficient backhaul and national backbone capacities. Read more…

Council of Members Meeting and Appointment of the Board

As we move towards our third Council of Members meeting to be held before the end of April 2009 (the specific date shall be communicated after the planned Board meeting in February), the attention of NRENs is drawn to the issues outlined below.  Reference should also be made to the Articles of Association of the Alliance (sent to each member NREN), Articles 4, 5, 7, 9, 14, 16, 17and 20.

The Council of Members is the supreme policy organ of the Alliance and is specifically responsible for:

  • Discussion and approval of the annual report
  • Adoption of the Annual Accounts
  • Appointment of Auditors
  • Approval of annual charges to members (REN Participants)
  • Appointment of Directors

Each Member NREN of the Alliance, formally designated as a REN Participant in the Articles, is entitled to nominate one person as its Representative Member to the Council of Members.  It is desirable – but not mandatory – that the Representative Member is the CEO (Vice-Chancellor, Rector, or President) of one of the member institutions of the NREN so that there is a direct linkage between the policy level of the Alliance and the policy level of the member institutions of the NRENS.

The Board of the Alliance consist of nine (9) people of whom two (2), the Chairman of the Alliance and the CEO, are ex-officio members.  The Chairman is identified through a process that is overseen by the Association of African Universities, and the CEO is appointed by the Board.  The other seven (7) members of the Board are appointed by the Council of Members.   The current Board was put in place two years ago, and its term will expire at this year’s Council of Members meeting: seven (7) Directors must be appointed to the next Board of the Alliance during the April meeting.

According to Article 9.4, “The appointment of Directors shall be made from a list of candidates.  Each Representative Member shall have the right to nominate one or more candidates. Such nomination shall be submitted to the Secretary in writing, accompanied by the curriculum vitae of the candidate and a statement of the main contributions that the candidate envisages making, if elected.  Notice of the list of candidates of the Management Board shall be given in the notice convening the meeting”

The REN Participants of the Alliance are asked to take note and prepare to:

  • Formally communicate to the Alliance either confirming the current or nominating a new Representative Member;
  • Work with the Representative Member in identifying potential members of the Board.  Such potential members do not necessarily have to be from the country of the NREN or the university and research community:  The essence of the Board is a group of individuals who have the complementary skills and experience to oversee the successful implementation of the strategic plan of the Alliance, rather than representing the interests of any particular NREN or other group.

There will, over the next two weeks, be formal communication to each CEO and Representative Member about this.

Invitation to Host UbuntuNet-Connect 2009

The Alliance holds an annual conference, UbuntuNet-Connect.  The Board invites expressions of interest from Member NRENs for hosting UbuntuNet-Connect 2009, UbuntuNet-Connect 2010, and UbuntuNet-Connect 2011. There is a modest budget for this event, but it does not necessarily cover all activities and/or participants.  Starting this year, the conference will have both invited and peer-reviewed presentations, and could therefore run to two days instead of one.  Some NRENs had indicated interest in hosting this event: the Board agreed that the process must be handled transparently.  UbuntuNet-Connect 2009 will be held during October or very early November.  The closing date for responses is 15th February 2009.

TENET now licensed to self-provide infrastructure

TENET, the South African NREN, has been granted two new electronic communications licenses by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).  In informal language, the one license, called an Electronic Communications Network Services (ECNS) License, permits licensees to construct, maintain and operate an electronic communications network and to carry third parties’ traffic on it. TENET may do this on a national scale.  The other license, called an Electronic Communications Services (ECS) License, permits licensees to provide value-adding electronic communications services, directly and through resellers, using any legitimate electronic communications network to do so.

The licenses have been granted under the Electronic Communications Act of 2005.  That Act repealed and replaced the former Telecommunications Act.  The ECS license is the direct counterpart of the former Value Added Network Services (VANS) license that was held by many hundreds of ISPs and other entities, including TENET.  By contrast, the ECNS license is the counterpart of the former PSTS license that was held only by a few large “incumbent” operators.

ICASA has just granted not only an ECS license but also an ECNS license to over 500 ISPs and other VANS licensees (including TENET).  This is the somewhat unexpected outcome of the license conversion process necessitated by the replacement of the Telecommunication Act by the Electronic Communications Act. Interestingly, TENET’s having been granted these new licenses has nothing to do with its being the South African NREN.

As regards the right of the new licensees to self-provide network infrastructure, this outcome represents a dramatic liberalisation of what had long been a seriously monopolistic telecommunications regime.

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