Convinced that access to information and communication technologies is necessary for the global integration of developing countries, Jean Dello, Congolese minister of Post and Telecommunications, responsible for new technologies, Lent himself to the questions of the dispatches of Brazzaville. It refers here to the management of frequencies and the steps taken to bring the Congo to the fiber-optic transmission networks, but also to the ambitions it feeds for Congolese telecommunications.
Db. Several working sessions on the management of frequencies have recently convened in Brazzaville and Kinshasa, the telecommunications experts of the two Congo and their ministers of guardianship. Why are you paying such attention to this question?
Jd. Frequency management is a delicate issue whose functioning, which cannot be explained in public places, is the subject of many meetings between our two countries as you have seen. The frequencies are the property of the States and require careful management. But, although each country has a part of its spectrum and manages it according to its own laws, an international organization, the International Telecommunication Union (IUT), is responsible for managing the spectrum of frequencies around the world. With regard to our country, the Congo, we have the misfortune or the happiness of being close to a large country, the DRC, whose operators often overflow from the fixed spectrum.
This problem is well known, including specialists in the security of our two states. So we took a first step towards our friends in Kinshasa in order to watch with them how to manage the frequencies rationally and, beyond the frequencies, the telecommunications over the river. Today, with the common will to prevent the “squatting” of frequencies, national commissions have been set up and are working to make a sound distribution of the spectrum of frequencies, but also to ensure that no operator Of the two countries exceeds the limits assigned to it.
Db. Unlike other countries that carry out the sale of frequencies, the Congo has opted for their rental. Does this mean that this process is more profitable for the country?
Jd. Exactly! We had been approached from the outset, especially with the arrival of the GSM operators, by companies that wanted to buy our frequencies, or even the whole spectrum of frequencies. But you understand that if you have fun selling everything that is above our heads it is as if you are selling everything under our feet. That is why our country has opted for renting which has a lot of advantage: the country, first of all, is able to withdraw to the operator its frequency when the quality of the services rendered is not sufficient; The operators, then, are required to comply with the laws and regulations of the country insofar as, in the case of a state resource, no one can dictate orders to us. While it is true that some states have chosen the sale option, which is making billions, it is also the case that the rental ratio is as much because each month significant royalties are paid to the Treasury.
DB: Congo is one of the Central African countries that has not acceded to the SAT-3 project. Can you tell us about the steps currently being taken to river our country with fibre optics via the Intercontinental cable?
Jd. We pay great attention to this issue and we talk about it every time we are invited. Initially there was a very tempting project: that of Africa one, this submarine cable which aims to surround several continents and which had to have, on our request, a landing point in black Point, point from which we could have connected our fiber Optical. We had also signed for a specialized satellite project for Africa, RASCOM, which has not been mentioned since the events of 11 September 2001 which hit the United States of America. Our ambition is to register as soon as possible on SAT-3 which has a point of siltation in Luanda, Angola, on which we intend to connect. But we have two possibilities: either to use the cable with the DRC to Kinshasa, from whom we dépendrions, or to connect with the Cabinda and to connect Brazzaville with Pointe Noire, passing through the cities located on the railway axis of the Congo-ocean. The choice of one or the other of these proposals is the responsibility of the Council of Ministers, which will say whether to join the DRC or not.
Jd. We pay great attention to this issue and we talk about it every time we are invited. Initially there was a very tempting project: that of Africa one, this submarine cable which aims to surround several continents and which had to have, on our request, a landing point in black Pointe, point from which we could have connected our fiber Optical. We had also signed for a specialised satellite project for Africa, RASCOM, which has not been mentioned since the events of 11 September 2001 which hit the United States of America. Our ambition is to register as soon as possible on SAT-3 which has a point of siltation in Luanda, Angola, on which we intend to connect. But we have two possibilities: either to use the cable with the DRC to Kinshasa, from whom we dépendrions, or to connect with the Cabinda and to connect Brazzaville with Pointe Noire, passing through the cities located on the railway axis of the Congo-ocean. The choice of one or the other of these proposals is the responsibility of the Council of Ministers, which will say whether to join the DRC or not.
Db. One of the Congo’s telecommunications ambitions is to be more efficient and multifunctional so that the links are accessible to all. What is the current evolution of the national coverage project initiated by the Government?
Jd. The question of national coverage is no longer a diversion as the three Earth stations planned, respectively in Brazzaville, Oyo and Pointe Noire, have been built, are pointing to a satellite and are already transmitting signals. These “mother” stations will be supplemented by “dome-Sat” at the head-office level of each department. I would say that the project is very advanced and that the President of the Republic holds it firmly. In the same context, in addition to the “dome-Sat”, it is necessary to report the work undertaken by ZTE, a Chinese company with which we have signed agreements for the installation of local exchanges and radio loops in some localities. This will allow the neighbouring villages of the Chiefs of department places to have access to the landline, which will eventually allow the setting up of the Internet.
Db. Despite the opening, in the year 2000, of the Congo to the GSM network operated by two private operators, our country is so far lacking a real broadband Internet node. What is stopping its installation when agreements have been signed with some partners?
Jd. Access to the Internet is currently obtained from small terrestrial segments, but the true national knot must be ensured by a high-speed fibre. As the Internet goes with the phone, the installation of the national coverage is subject to the installation of this node. Moreover, the desire to install this node is very real and the necessary financial resources are mobilized. As you know we will be carrying out this project with the assistance of the UNDP and the IUT who have already contributed. We still have to pay our own contribution.
Db. At a time when the world wants to be a big global village, what is your strategy to promote a real integration of the Congo, both regional and subregional?
Jd. Our vision is ambitious but limited by the means we are therefore obliged to take a tie with donors and industrialists who give us facilities. This is the case of the University of Paris III who wants to work with us in the construction of networks called “in government”. At the subregional level, it is a question that Celtel-Congo passes through Mfouaty, in the Bouenza, to reach the south of the DRC and to go to Tanzania, in order to weave a kind of spider web that would allow us to open ourselves to other countries of the African continent, or even to the whole planet.
Db. The launch of Sotelco has made the split-dissolution of the ONPT effective into two separate entities. What about Sopeco and do you think that Sotelco has sufficient assets to deal with competition, on the one hand, to remedy the shortcomings of the deceased ONPT in terms of telecommunications, on the other hand?
Jd. The national Office of Postal and Telecommunications (ONPT), upon our arrival, was a veritable labyrinth; There was, concerning him, a file dating back to 1975, which foresaw his bursting. Today, after the appointment of the heads of the two companies, Sopeco, whose scheme was well plotted, has a strong chance of success; Its launch is conditioned by the promised subsidy which will allow the payment of its 350 agents. The great difficulty lies in the level of Sotelco where things are not yet in focus because, having created this society in accordance with the OHADA’s acts on the harmonisation of business law in Africa, we have problems to solve; Sotelco, it must be noted, is a state company that already exists with its debts (8 billion CFA francs) and its ills.
Db. What is your dream for Congolese telecommunications?
Jd. My big dream is to see every Congolese equipped with a communication terminal. It is under our management that the posts and telecommunications have opened up to the GSM and the Internet, but we want the new technologies to be within the reach of everyone, that every young Congolese in particular knows how to manipulate a computer. It is true that the means are lacking, but it is by forging that we will become blacksmiths.
Interview by Guy-Gervais Kitina