The Kingdom of Lesotho

Published by Wade Publications CC

Information & Communications Technology

The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector has been singled out as a strategic area for sustaining future growth and development in Lesotho.

The Lesotho Government works to deliver affordable, sustainable, reliable and high quality ICT services to all Basotho, striving to ensure that universal access to such services is achieved. At the same time, the regulatory system is being improved and backbone infrastructure enhanced to facilitate the growth of private sector initiatives, which are vital to the provision of an effective and efficient communications network.

ICT providers in Lesotho have continued to broaden their range of products and services, bringing consumers better quality communications at reduced prices. Although landlocked, the country is also beginning to benefit from a greater choice in reliable, high-speed international bandwidth sources provided by the landing of several new submarine fibre optic cables on the east and west coasts of Africa. The new WASACE cable, linking Brazil and other South American landing points, connects directly with Angola, with branch lines to Nigeria and South Africa. These developments have seen Internet bandwidth prices fall, while mobile data services are now more affordable to a wider section of the population.

Continued growth in the communications industry
The socioeconomic development of a country has been closely linked to the performance of the ICT sector, with World Bank figures showing that a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration will equate to a 1.3 percent growth in the economy. In Lesotho, the communications industry has in recent years been an important contributor to economic activity. According to the Central Bank of Lesotho, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the Post and Telecommunications subsector expanded by 5.86 percent during 2013. In addition, the 2014 African Economic Outlook for Lesotho anticipates that the tertiary sector will continue its positive performance into 2015, with communications expected to be one of the drivers of growth.

Priorities set in the 2014/15 budget include the continued migration from analogue to digital transmission, involving the construction of new television and radio infrastructure, with full migration expected by April 2015. Furthermore, the Ministry of Communication is rolling out online government services to speed up the provision of identification cards, birth certificates and passports, with applications to be completed and paid for electronically. An allocation of M260.0 million was proposed for these projects.

POLICY & REGULATION

The Lesotho Communications Authority (amendment) Act of 2008 broadened the Lesotho Telecommunications Authority Act of 2000 to include electronic media. The communications sector, which now encompasses telecommunications, broadcasting, radio frequency and postal services, is regulated by the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) www.lca.org.ls.

The LCA’s mandate covers issuing licences to operators, promoting fair competition, approving tariffs, managing the radio frequency spectrum, empowering and protecting consumers, and type-approving terminal equipment. This more inclusive regulatory regime reflects changes within the industry as a result of Internet Protocol (IP) technology, which is seeing the convergence of services involved in the distribution of information.

One of the authority’s prime tasks is to promote a competitive telecommunications market through appropriate regulatory interventions, while creating opportunities for all Basotho to benefit from the ICT revolution. This is being undertaken with the overall strategic objective of ensuring the delivery of a universal, affordable and high-quality service which includes rural areas and low-income subscribers.

The LCA is at present also responsible for enforcing regulations governing anti-competitive conduct in the telecommunications, broadcasting and postal sectors, as well as reviewing mergers involving licensees. The authority also cooperates with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) in regulating telecommunications and broadcasting, particularly with regard to controlling signal spill-over between the two countries.

The Communications Policy of 2008 established the framework for regulating the telecommunications, broadcasting and postal sectors, in line with the SADC Protocol on Transport, Communications and Meteorology. Its primary aims are to:

  • Strengthen the regulatory capacity of the LCA
  • Reflect and promote the convergence of services and networks based on the Internet
  • Foster universal access to a diverse range of high-quality communications services at affordable prices, including advanced networks, in order to enable Lesotho to participate in the global information society
  • Promote a competitive communications market, which entails facilitating the cooperative deployment and sharing of infrastructure while promoting service-based competition

Replacing the Lesotho Telecommunications Act of 1979 and the Post Office Act of 1979, the new Communications Act of 2012 came into effect on 29 April 2012. The act introduces reforms to the broadcasting industry as well as providing for the independence of the Lesotho National Broadcasting Services (LNBS) and the Postal Services. Licensing Fees and Classifications Rules were published in 2013.

One of the principal functions of the new Communications Act is to regulate the granting of licenses by ensuring that qualifying operators give the public access to a ‘diverse range of broadcasting services’. This covers a wide spectrum of broadcasters – public, private, commercial and community – who are in turn expected to offer a varied range of broadcast content, including news, sports, entertainment, religious, educational and cultural programming.

Adopted in July 2014, the new Radio Frequency Spectrum Management Policy of 2014 replaces the Radio Frequency Spectrum Policy of 2008. This clears the way for the application and deployment of innovative technological developments, especially those that enable and extend broadband uptake in Lesotho. In this respect, the LCA Board has extended the use of Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) frequencies beyond wireless Local Area Networks (LANs) and hotspots to incorporate wireless mesh networks.

In 2013/14, the Universal Access Agency expanded its focus to emphasise broadband connections and has in partnership with the ITU and the two mobile providers completed projects amounting to US $855 000 in order to link schools.

Universal service and access
Ensuring that all Basotho have access to basic domestic and international telephony services and Internet, as well as radio and television broadcasts and basic postal services, is the central tenet of Lesotho’s Universal Access Strategy. First developed in 2001, the strategy’s principles have subsequently been embedded in all operators’ licences. This has been applied in a technology-neutral fashion, covering both fixed and mobile networks, and traditional as well as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony.

Set up with seed capital of M10 million, the Universal Access Fund was established in 2009 to provide access and connectivity to communications services in un-served and under-served areas. The fund is administered by the Universal Access Agency, which receives 25 percent of the revenue raised by the LCA (its parent body) and 1 percent of the annual net operating income (NOI) of each of the main network operators.

The Agency’s programme of work has concentrated on expanding mobile network coverage, constructing transmitters in various parts of the country to ensure that no person is more than 4 kilometres away from telecommunications services. According to the Universal Access Strategy and Fund Guidelines, all villages with at least 150 households must have network coverage and communications service access points. Other work has focused on setting up an IXP (Internet exchange point) and the registry for the national .ls domain.

Since 2009, 20 base stations have been set up in remote locations, benefiting more than
70 000 people in the rural areas of the country. Because of the inaccessibility of these areas, the Agency spends between 20 and 25 percent of its budget on road and electricity infrastructure, the latter mainly in the form of solar panels. Four-fifths of these base stations are now profitable on an OPEX basis after the initial capital investment. While the programme mainly covers voice communications, there are also some 3G connections.

STRATEGIC DIRECTION

Investment in communications infrastructure has proven fairly costly, given Lesotho’s rugged mountain landscape, underdeveloped road and electricity networks, and sparsely populated rural areas. In view of ICT’s potential to increase competitiveness through greater efficiency in production processes and improved access to information, markets and global social networks, even greater levels of investment are called for.

According to the National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) 2012/13-2016/17, an appropriate infrastructure should be developed that encompasses a competitive business/investment environment, competitive and/or contestable markets through appropriate legal frameworks and a reduced burden of regulation, and the capacity for knowledge assimilation and generation as well as innovation development.

The required ICT infrastructure is made up of the appropriate connectivity infrastructure and international access, a significant density of computers and mobile phones, and sufficient electricity connections. For Lesotho to benefit fully from such development, the requisite technical skills and systems to manage this infrastructure must be fostered.

Connecting to high-speed digital subscriber line (DSL) broadband has historically been constrained by minimal fixed-line infrastructure, while limited bandwidth to transmit voice, data and Internet traffic has inhibited Internet usage and uptake. These restrictions are being eradicated by developments such as the arrival of the East and Southern African Optic Submarine Cable System (EASSy) and the increasing adoption of converged technologies such as Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX), and Third Generation (3G) High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA).

More recently, the launch of Fourth Generation (4G) Long Term Evolution (LTE) services has brought high-speed mobile broadband Internet access to smartphones and laptops with wireless modems. Potential and current applications include better mobile web access, IP telephony, gaming services, high-definition mobile TV, video conferencing, 3D television and cloud computing.

Present strategic objectives and actions to be taken focus on promoting investment to facilitate the installation of advanced communications networks to make voice and data distribution services accessible across the country. This includes an ICT roll-out strategy and plan for schools and informal education programmes, and the identification of new solutions in banking, health and public service delivery. Facilitating infrastructure sharing among network operators will assist in optimising scarce resources.

Call centre business
A feasibility study commissioned by the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) has been undertaken into the development of call centre businesses in Lesotho in order to:

  • Assess the market and telecommunications environment to identify critical success factors to make
  • Lesotho an attractive destination for investors in the call centre business, without excluding other types of outsourcing ventures that rely on ICT infrastructure
  • Identify the technical, legal and regulatory requirements for the establishment of call centres, taking into account international best practice
  • Provide insights into other requirements that are necessary for a viable call centre market/industry in Lesotho
  • Recommend strategies to be followed in order to promote investment in the call centre business

The study found both demand and potential in Lesotho, based on a limited but significant opportunity to improve Government communications with citizens, a need to improve emergency service call handling, and the needs of the private sector – some of which host their customer service operations in South Africa, but for which there could be longer-term financial incentives (competitive wage rates and call costs) to use call centres in Lesotho.

Advantages for Lesotho include its low-wage economy and language skills. Infrastructure is a major area requiring improvement, and while there are promising plans to develop better connectivity, expensive call centre technology would also be needed. Nonetheless, the financial model suggests that, despite these costs, there could be a business case for establishing call centre operations in Lesotho.

Recommendations focus on taking a phased approach to developing such businesses, with some early intervention by Government to ensure that progress is made and possibly to stimulate development by deploying call centres for Government use. Other assistance could take the form of optimising the business environment by offering incentives such as tax breaks or ‘low tax zones’ for e-commerce purposes. Attracting call centre business from South Africa is seen as strategically important in gaining the economies of scale necessary for the success of the venture, and competing in the global market remains a medium to long-term objective.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

The telecommunications industry has expanded rapidly in recent years, both in Lesotho and the rest of Africa, primarily because of the exceptional growth of the mobile sector and wireless technology. The convergence of networks, involving multiple and complex services offered on a single platform, is opening up new opportunities and stimulating the emergence of new and innovative services.

The privatisation of the state-owned Lesotho Telecommunications Corporation in 2000 set the stage for further growth in the sector. A subsidiary of Econet Wireless International, Econet Telecom Lesotho (ETL) is the current fixed-line national operator. There is competition in the mobile subsector between ETL and Vodacom, although the mobile market penetration is slightly below the regional average.

The Communications Sector Liberalisation Framework states that there will be no quotas set for the number of participants in any service. All existing network operators as well as specified classes of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are allowed to operate international gateways and voice and data services are fully liberalised. Tele-bureau and Internet Café services have been deregulated in order to encourage participation by small-scale Basotho entrepreneurs.

While fixed-line teledensity is low, the network gained value when ADSL broadband technology was deployed in 2007. An upgrade to EV-DO technology allowed ETL to concentrate on the roll out of a CDMA2000 fixed-wireless network which provides fixed-line replacements and wireless broadband services. Furthermore, Econet has introduced a fixed-mobile convergence product based on its GSM network and is capitalising on its multi-platform capabilities.

At the same time, the introduction of 3G and now 4G LTE has enabled Vodacom to roll out mobile broadband services. Vodacom is also expanding its WiMAX wireless broadband network, and wireless infrastructure is also being extended by a number of other ISPs.

Uptake of communications services
The latest available data from the ITU points to increasing uptake of services in Lesotho, particularly in the mobile sector. By the end of December 2013, for every 100 inhabitants there were:

  • 2.8 fixed telephone subscriptions
  • 86.3 mobile telephone subscriptions
  • 0.1 fixed (wired) broadband subscriptions
  • 7.4 mobile broadband subscriptions

While international connectivity has improved in Lesotho, broadband remains expensive by global standards, and Internet access is still substantially below that of neighbouring countries. According to the same ITU data source, by the end of 2013 just 6.4 percent of households had a computer, 4.3 percent had Internet access at home, and 5 percent of people used the Internet.

Since the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector in 2000, teledensity has risen from 1 percent to 96 percent, with the increase primarily being driven by mobile networks.

Mobile telephony
There are two mobile operators in Lesotho. Vodacom Lesotho was launched in 1996 followed by Econet Ezi-Cel (EEC) in 2002, with the latter a subsidiary of the national fixed-line operator. In 2008, with the controlling interest in both EEC and Telecom Lesotho passing to Econet Wireless International, the two were merged to form the current Econet Telecom Lesotho (ETL) www.etl.co.ls, which is discussed in depth later in this chapter.

Vodacom Lesotho www.vodacom.co.ls, the country’s leading mobile operator, has performed consistently in recent years. The company is owned by the Vodacom group (80 percent) and local Sekha-Metsi Enterprises (20 percent). Vodacom presently has more than 1.3 million customers, over 350 000 of which are active data users. In comparison, there are estimated to be fewer than 10 000 fixed-line ADSL connections in the country.

Launched in October 2014, Vodacom’s 4G LTE service will address the relative scarcity of fixed line connections in the country through the provision of high-speed mobile Internet. This follows heavy investment in the operator’s network in Lesotho. The service is currently available in Maseru, to both prepaid and contract customers, and is being rolled out to other districts. 

A new MTR (mobile termination rate) glide path was introduced during 2012/13 for mobile operators. In October 2014 MTRs were reduced further to M0.38.

Econet Telecom Lesotho
Econet Telecom Lesotho (ETL) has served the people of Lesotho for many years. Its origin lies in its role as the incumbent provider of traditional copper line voice service to people and businesses across the country and its mobile operations began in 2002. After years of significant capital investment the company is proud to offer a full range of telecommunications services to Lesotho, on state-of-the-art fixed (optical fibre and copper) and mobile (GSM and CDMA) networks. It provides standalone or converged voice and broadband solutions on these networks, to individuals, corporates and governmental institutions, with products ranging from leased lines, to copper or fibre-to-the-building broadband, to fixed voice, to mobile voice and broadband, to the countrywide public payphone service.

In August 2013, ETL re-launched its fixed line business at the Econet Centre of Excellence in Thetsane. The copper fixed line network in Lesotho is an important asset for the country, but unfortunately in recent years has been prone to vandalism and theft. ETL has invested heavily and continues to invest in restoring this copper network and upgrading it with fibre optic cables. Rapid Internet access is vital for the future of the country, whether for business, pleasure or the education and development of the country’s youth. No technology can yet match the strength, power and low cost, to the consumer, of Internet connectivity via passive fixed line. ETL has invested heavily in its fibre backbone across the country and this, together with the upgrades to its mobile capability currently in hand, means that in 2015 the broadband service ETL will offer the people of Lesotho will be amongst the best in the continent.

ETL has launched a number of new services to customers, which have connectivity at their base, but which assist the customer beyond connectivity. Chief amongst these is their mobile money service, EcoCash. This service permits ETL customers to make payments via their mobile phones without handling cash or going to a bank to withdraw money. The range of options provided to EcoCash customers is broad and continues to grow. Apart from straightforward money transfer, EcoCash customers can pay their prepaid electricity and water bills, pay their DStv subscriptions, pay insurance premiums and much more besides. The EcoCash service is useful for ETL customers who have bank accounts, but is invaluable for the unbanked, who otherwise increasingly struggle to manage in the world of today. ETL’s EcoCash brings freedom to the unbanked people of Lesotho. 

Other services offered by ETL, with connectivity at their base, are EcoSure, EcoTracker and EcoHealth, with more planned. EcoSure offers a range of products, for example a funeral insurance policy designed for prepaid mobile phone customers between the ages of 18 and 65; this is offered by ETL in partnership with the Lesotho National Insurance Group (LNIG). EcoTracker has a number of services in investigative and pilot stage, including fleet management, vehicle recovery and animal tracking. EcoHealth provides ETL subscribers with information and advice on a range of health topics. 

ETL engages in a variety of corporate social initiatives. The company has partnered with the Ministry of Health to help to prepare the country in the event of Ebola infection. Support has been given in a variety of ways, including an SMS campaign to raise funds for the Africa Against Ebola Solidarity Fund and Ebola related health advice provided for free on the EcoHealth service. Chief amongst ETL’s philanthropic efforts is the support it gives to The Higher Life Foundation Lesotho, which is a charitable organisation supporting the education of over 500 orphans. In May 2014 Higher Life launched a Learning Hub in Maseru. The hub, which is equipped with 15 desktops connected to the Internet, as well as a reading section, will benefit an estimated 2 700 students from schools in and around Maseru. The mission of the hub is to contribute to the Millennium Development Goals which inter alia aim to ‘achieve universal primary education for all by 2015’.

BROADCASTING & MASS MEDIA

The broadcasting industry is dominated by private and commercial broadcasting, with both electronic and print media represented in the form of private radio stations and independent newspapers. The difference between broadcasting and telecommunications is accounted for in the Communications Act (2012), which established four categories of broadcasters: public service, community, private and commercial broadcasters, with each category differing by ownership, purpose and coverage requirements. Transformation within the sector is seeing state broadcasting being converted into public service broadcasting.

The national Lesotho News Agency (LENA) has since 1985 dealt with the distribution of local, regional and international news services to both domestic and international media. Today it utilises ICT to distribute news and images within the country and around the world. Services offered cover current events, sports, business and economic news, and feature articles. Daily news feeds are available to LENA subscribers online, updated regularly throughout the day.

Freedom of expression, media diversity, media freedom, independence, self-sufficiency and pluralism is promoted in order to strengthen democracy. Ensuring that a variety of distribution channels, including radio, television and telecommunications networks, are universally available to Basotho is another priority.

Ongoing initiatives to foster the development of the sector include the corporatisation of the Lesotho National Broadcasting Service (LNBS), deployment of transmission infrastructure throughout the country, adoption of a transparent and non-discriminatory regime for the regulation of content, and promotion of Internet-based ‘new media’ services. The efficient sharing of existing infrastructure and shared deployment of new infrastructure in un-served or underserved areas is encouraged, with the LNBS required to grant all licensed broadcasters access to its transmission infrastructure under reasonable and non-discriminatory terms. In addition, the LCA is licensing new market participants to increase competition in the sector.

One of Government’s foremost priorities in the broadcasting sector is to implement the migration from analogue to digital transmission, which is at an advanced stage. The plan is to have attained full migration by April 2015, in time to meet the deadline set by SADC. This will modernise and improve the quality of transmission of radio and television programmes, and has involved the installation of new FM and TV transmitters as well as the acquisition of equipment for both radio and TV studios. To take full advantage of this development, the country is also looking to encourage the domestic entertainment industry and local artistic talent.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Lesotho is a non-governmental, non-profit making, member-driven organisation that seeks to promote freedom of expression, media freedom, media diversity, independence and pluralism in Lesotho. MISA endeavours to uplift the standards of journalism in Lesotho and facilitate the economic self-sufficiency of the country’s independent media services. As the main driver of media policy change in Lesotho, the chapter’s current advocacy priority focuses on the upcoming elections in February 2015, with calls to provide measured and balanced reporting to the public.

Radio and television services
There was only one national radio station in Lesotho until 1999, when Government issued licenses for other privately-owned radio stations. Currently Lesotho has two state-owned radio stations, broadcasting countrywide. Radio Lesotho, which was established in 1964, produces, among others, talk shows on current affairs as well as educational programmes. Radio Lesotho’s commercial channel, ‘The Ultimate 99.8 fm’, was launched in 2006. It broadcasts interactive, youth-oriented programmes as well as news flashes in English.

In addition to this, there are eight privately owned stations, all based in Maseru. Three belong to church organisations, one is run by the National University of Lesotho and four are commercial broadcasters. Support is given to existing community radio stations and incentives provided for the establishment of new ones.

Lesotho Television (LTV) was established in 1988 with funding from M-Net, the owners of MultiChoice, and handed over to government in 2002. Initially using the transmitters of M-Net, LTV uses its own dedicated transmitter network which is also available through MultiChoice’s DSTV. Programming covers newscasts in Sesotho and English, sports, current events, music, cultural and children’s shows, including several locally produced programmes. The development of local broadcasting content is encouraged.

Satellite connectivity exists for Radio Lesotho, Ultimate FM and LTV following an agreement entered into with MultiChoice which allows these broadcasters to be viewed countrywide as well as outside Lesotho’s borders on DSTV. In addition, South African television networks are available in Lesotho, as are satellite links to other broadcasters.

Print media
There is a variety of independent newspapers, as well as small publications, periodicals and newsletters, in addition to the state-owned newspapers falling under the Lesotho News Agency (LENA). Weekly papers include Lentsoe la Basotho (Voice of Basotho), Lesotho Today, Lesotho Weekly, Makatolle, The Mirror, MoAfrica, Public Eye, Mopheme (The Survivor), The Sun, The Southern Star and Shoeshoe (a quarterly). The Leselinyana la Lesotho (Little Light of Lesotho) is published fortnightly by the Lesotho Evangelical Church, and Moeletsi oa Basotho is a weekly produced by the Roman Catholic Church.

A number of newspapers may also be found online, including the national news agency, LENA, which appears on the Lesotho government website, and other independent news sources such as the Lesotho Times, Public Eye and Informative.

There are six publishers; namely, Longman Lesotho (Pty) Ltd; Macmillan Boleswa Publishers of Lesotho (Pty) Ltd; Mazenod Institute; Morija Sesuto Book Depot; St Michael’s Mission and the Government Printer. Low levels of investment in this sector have negatively affected the growth of the printing and publishing industry, and the majority of printing jobs are undertaken outside Lesotho.

POSTAL SERVICES

The Lesotho Post Office (LPO) comprises a network of 47 post offices across Lesotho offering services such as letter mail (local and international), Express Mail Services (EMS) and electronic money transfer. Other products include post box management, parcel post, bulk mail, philately, postal orders, EcoCash (mobile money transfers) and DSTV payments. While the LPO has historically operated under the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology, the Integrated Postal Reform and Development Plan proposed by the Universal Postal Union (UPU) would see it transformed from a state agency into an independent corporation.

The focus of activities in the postal sector is directed towards improving both coverage and quality of postal services through the integration of ICT services. This is considered the best method for dealing with challenges such as decreasing mail volumes and revenues, a trend which has intensified with the advent of mobile telephony and Internet services.

In order to open up the sector to competition and increase choices for consumers as well as ensure access to global express mail networks, the LPO is required to provide new entrants with access to its delivery routes and post offices. The LCA is tasked with the identification of ‘reserved’ postal services that will not be subject to competition, as well as the establishment of a framework for the provision of non-reserved postal services – such as express mail, bulk mail and larger package shipping – by private sector participants.

The LPO is thus developing a long-term plan to ensure that it will meet specified universal service commitments, while having sufficient financial and human resources to operate as a viable business. Government is compensating for the decrease in revenue by assisting it in the introduction of new, convergent services, including ‘hybrid’ postal services which make use of the Internet and e-mail.

The LPO and Lesotho PostBank (LPB) are strategic partners, with the post office providing space in its branches which the LPB utilises to serve the un-banked population. There are 13 PostBank branches spread across the country.

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