Inside UCC’s two decades of regulating communications sector

HE Houlin Zhau, The ITU General Secretary, delivering his speech at Munyonyo Speke resort as UCC celebrated 20 years of regulating communications sector in Uganda. (Photo by Javira Ssebwami)

KAMPALA– Communications sector regulator Uganda Communications Commissions (UCC) on Wednesday organized an ICT symposium to benchmark two decades of streamlining one of the fastest growing sectors in Uganda.

UCC was established by the Uganda Communications Act 1997 which was later amended and consolidated in 2013. UCC achievements at 20 are really astonishing, but they could do better too.

The Commission has spent most of the journey from 1997 trying to find common ground where service providers and consumers prevail excellently. It was operating almost in the background for so many years. The last 3 years have put the UCC under so much public focus. The commission called 2018 a transformative year after it passed on so many directives.

According to Godfrey Mutabazi, the executive director UCC, in the coming years, UCC’s new focus is going to be on training the youth, the new generation of Uganda to ensure they are able to understand these emerging technologies and take advantage of the associated entrepreneur opportunities.

“We have already undertaken innovations to help the youth gain from the digital migration. We have been supporting ICT innovations and distributing computers in schools. All these are intended to help in creating job opportunities for the youth,” Mutabazi noted on Tuesday.

As the body that is mandated to undertake a range of functions including implementation of rural communications development and capacity building, policy advice, content empowerment, and many others, UCC is determined to fulfill its mandate in helping Uganda in benefiting from digital evolution.

UCC since interception developed a robust communications sector including capacity building of local content developers and exhibitors, also in determining price comparative websites for comparative information.

The commission has also registered growth in Mobile and fixed subscriptions grew from less than 50,000 active lines in 1996 to 24 million in 2018, according to statics shared by Ibrahim Bbosa, the consumer affairs manager at UCC.

MTN Uganda’s Chief Executive Officer Wim VanHelleputte at Munyonyo Speke Resort as UCC celebrated its 20 years of regulating the sector, told this website that “…the Best decision UCC has so far made this year is directing the use of Biometrics for SIMcard registration and  verification.”

He also commended UCC for attracting global brands in the market including Huawei, Ericsson, MTN Uganda, Vodafone (left), Airtel Uganda, Liquid/Infocom, Simbanet/Wanainchi Group and Multichoice.

Other multinationals include Star Times, DHL, FEDEX, Smile Communications, Google, Seacom, UTL, Kwese TV, Nation Medi Group and Azam Television.

President Yoweri Museveni in a speech read by Vice-president Edward Ssekandi noted that in 1996, the government adopted a policy to increase penetration through privatization rather than government intervention.

“We only had UTL and MTN. But the last few years have seen growth in both fixed and mobile telephone subscribers to 21 million from 28,000,” said Museveni.

Hon John Nasasira receives being awarded by the HE Vice president Edward Ssekandi for his leadership in 2013 and 2016 and also being the Pioneer Minister for the ICT ministry. (Photo by Javira Ssebwami)

He explained that  the liberalized communications sector has made it possible for Ugandans to enjoy new technologies through private investment,” he emphasized, adding, “Currently, the national coverage of 3G technology stands at 70 percent.”

Mr Houlin  Zhao, the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union, applauded UCC for promoting the ICT sector and for making Uganda compete with first world countries.

“Through an innovative licensing regime, Uganda is recognised for lowering market entry barriers and increasing consumer choice, and one of the very few countries worldwide that were able to improve ICT global rankings 5 places upwards on the ICT ranking index,” he observed.

According to UCC, Uganda leads the continent in having the most liberalized broadcasting industry with about 292 licensed FM radios and over 35 Television stations.

There are more than 40 Free – To – Air TV channels and the completion of Analogue to Digital Migrations need mention in spite of a few challenges.

The country also enjoys more than 90 percent population coverage with basic cellular network signal and now considering national roaming that will further improve the same.

UCC in June this year revealed that by 2020 they target to have the entire country on the internet.

“Broadband width in Uganda is at 40 percent for urban areas and 15 percent for rural areas. Uganda targets 100 percent urban connectivity and 50 percent rural internet connectivity by 2020,”  said Irene Kaggwa, the UCC Director Engineering, Communications, and Infrastructure,  as she launched a 5-day satellite workshop at Pearl of Africa Hotel in Kampala.

“Africa cannot be left behind in the new communication dimension for the internet of big data, artificial intelligence and how to leverage ICTs. Where is Africa in this?” she asked.

UCC says that there are over 22 million Mobile Money accounts and a network of more than 160,000 Mobile Money agents countrywide.

“There has been a consistent drop in end-user communication tariffs over the last 15 year and increased innovation in services and products. To date Mobile Network Operators provide a diversified portfolio in voice, data, Mobile Money and Value added services,” Bbosa explained to this website.

He further explained that this comes at the back of an innovative licensing regime, prudent monitoring, inspection, supervision, control and regulation.



Many may fault it for some of these directives such as SIM card sale ban, blocking some live TV broadcasts, closing some radio and TV stations and turning off counterfeit phones.

A day before President Museveni was inaugurated for another five-year term, access to social media platforms including Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter was blocked on instructions of the regulator, UCC.

The directive came less than three months after a four-day blockage initiated on Election Day (February 18, 2016) that drew local and international condemnation.

On May 11, internet service providers in the country used social media to inform their customers of the second instruction issued by the communications regulator.

They indicated that the regulator had cited “national security” as the reason for the shutdown. The present social media blockage comes on the heels of a May 5 ban on live media coverage of opposition-led activities in protest against what they consider the rigged re-election of Museveni.

Since May 3, 2016, journalists and artists decried the declining state of freedom of expression at the national celebrations to mark World Press Freedom Day.





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