ICT regulations and policies in Cameroon

Introduction

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) or New Information and Communication Technologies (NICTs) combining computer science and telecommunications, have become more widespread in the context of the Internet network and multimedia, i.e digitized audiovisual information ( 1 ). The intersection of telecommunications and IT has favored the growth of ICTs in terms of productivity, competitiveness and information resources in the era of globalization ( 2 ). Telecommunications in this combination are understood by regulation as “electronic communications” to designate telecommunications, cable networks and computer networks ( 3 ). Telecommunications or “Electronic Communications” are defined and characterized as “the emission, remote transmission and reception of information of any kind by wire, radio electricity, optic or electromagnetic system” ( 4 ). The telecommunications sector offers numerous services which consist, in whole or in part, of the transmission and routing of signals over the public telecommunications network by telecommunications processes, with the exception of radio broadcasting and television ( 5). These services include: fixed telephony, cellular mobile telephony, electronic messaging and information services, etc. With the rise of the Internet and the convergence of telecommunications and the Internet, a sector of wired and mobile devices make ICTs a development factor for Africa and Cameroon ( 6). However, despite their rapid and widespread expansion, the growth potential of ICTs remains under-exploited, especially in Cameroon, ranked 126th out of 143 countries in 2015. This ranking highlights the fact that Cameroon is one of the countries that least integrates ICTs into its development policies. And yet, the economic dynamics developed specifically around mobile telephony and the Internet sufficiently demonstrate that these specific sectors of activity resulting from the development of ICTs can contribute considerably to reducing the unemployment and the social exclusion of the poorest socio-professional strata. But the constraints to digital inclusion remain multiple. These constraints result from ambivalent regulations and a very inefficient telecommunications policy among others.

  1. Ambivalent regulations

The regulation of ICTs in Cameroon has experienced four major periods marked by a rupture (1960-1988; 1988-1998; and 1998 to 2010; 2010 to the present) and the constant desire of the government to align itself with the technological situation. Without returning to the periods from 1960 to 1998, the permanent observation made with regard to the regulation of the Telecommunications sector in Cameroon relates to the inadequacy of ICT policies with regard to socio-economic reality. The turning point in the history of telecommunications in Cameroon is the 1998 law relating to telecommunications ( 7) which lays the foundations for the liberalization of the sector and establishes in its section 22 paragraph 1, the Telecommunications Regulatory Board (ART) the organization and functioning of which will be specified by Decree the same year ( 8). According to this law, the ART “regulates, controls and monitors the activities of operators in the telecommunications sector.  It also ensures compliance with the principle of equal treatment of users in all telecommunications companies” (article 22). The State will also create Cameroon Telecommunications (CAMTEL) (9) and Cameroon Telecommunications Mobile ( 10) in 1998. In 1999, a Decree from the Prime Minister established the interconnection regime between communication networks open to the public ( 11 ), and a cellular telephone concession agreement was  signed between the State and the Société Camerounaise de Mobiles (MOBILIS) approved by Decree in 2000 ( 12). This concession made as part of the restructuring of the Telecommunications sector, authorizes MOBILIS to “establish and operate a national mobile GSM cellular telephone network open to the public in Cameroon and to provide (…) value-added services, terminal equipment and any support service…” (Section 2.1.1 of the Concession Agreement). In 2000, Mobile Telephone Network (MTN), a South African operator, bought the license of CAMTEL Mobile and launched its activities in 2002, the year in which MOBILIS became Orange Cameroun, a subsidiary of the French telephone company Orange, formerly France Telecom. The arrival of MTN encouraged the development of real competition which proved particularly beneficial for the mobile telephony sector in Cameroon.

In 2002, the State established by Decree the National Agency for ICT  (ANTIC) in charge of promoting and monitoring government action in the field of ICT ( 13), thus evolving its strategic vision in terms of telecommunications and ICTs. In fact, by establishing ANTIC, the State wished to separate activities relating to Telecommunications from those relating to ICT. The relevance of this option is somehow questionable, given the transversality and interconnectivity of ICTs in all sectors of activity. But, without dwelling on it, it should be noted that the two agencies established to regulate telecommunications (ART) and conduct the national ICT policy (ANTIC) have serious difficulties in their operation due to a workforce insufficiently qualified, lack of material resources and poor funding. In 2005, ANTIC developed a national ICT development strategy. In 2010, Cameroon adopted new laws to align with new developments in the ICT and telecommunications sector, laws which led to the reform of the two agencies between 2010 ( 14) and 2015 ( 15). During this period, Cameroon granted a 3rd license to a Vietnamese operator, the company Viettel SA which launched Nexttel in 2014 while introducing the 3G in Cameroon. After the launch of Nexttel, the public operator CAMTEL also obtained a cellular telephone operating license and launch CAMTEL Mobile.

Analysis shows that Cameroon has opted for sequenced liberalization of the mobile telephony sector, with the gradual introduction of private operators. With regard to the Internet, full liberalization of the Internet access/service supply sector, as well as the supply of value-added services and access to the space segment.

  1. An inefficient national ICT policy

Cameroon’s national ICT policy is based on the government’s determination to transform the foundations of its economy, and to turn it into a knowledge-based economy through the sustainable appropriation of ICTs, which are now seen as leverage for development. The liberalization of the telecoms sector, which has led to private investment (Orange, MTN), has certainly enabled rapid growth in the number of cell phone users, but Internet access remains limited due to technical constraints and, to a certain extent, access prices, which are still very expensive for some social strata. It should be noted, however, that Internet access costs have been decreasing since the 2010 decade, from 1,000 FCFA per hour to 200 FCFA per hour in cybercafés in the Centre and Littoral regions. Internet access on smartphones and Androids is less expensive thanks to the bonus policy practised by private-sector mobile operators, in this case MTN and Orange. For just 100 CFA francs, you can access the Internet for 24 hours.  These are daily packages that are more accessible to poor people and middle-income households. The subscription to an ADSL is in 2023 and 2024, between 30,000 FCFA and 110,000 FCFA ( 16), this fluctuation being explained by promotional prices practised at the end of the year or at certain periods of the year. The high cost of the Internet creates a significant digital gap excluding a large segment of the population from digital technology. Furthermore, in addition to the high cost of Internet access, the connection in Cameroon is very often of very poor quality, and changes depending on the weather (heavy rain, power cuts, etc.). In 2016, with the demands of the English-speaking regions which led the government to cut off Internet access in these regions, the political factor also proved to be an important condition for Internet access. Digital technology impacts social relations between citizens of the world. These effects on the centralization of state power and on state sovereignty impose new modes of economic regulation and governance.

Conclusion and recommendations

Despite the dynamics observed in the development of mobile telephony and the Internet, Cameroon remains lagging behind and remains one of the countries with the lowest Internet and ICT penetration rate. This situation can be explained by various reasons: disorder and lack of coordination between the different actors involved in the sector, ambivalent legislation and regulations, the inadequacy of ICT management instruments to socio-economic and socio-cultural realities, an asymmetrical geopolitics of access to the information society ( 17). Faced with these observations, it is appropriate to:

  • Create a platform for collaboration between the different actors, organizations and institutions involved in the sector

Facilitate access to the Internet and other mobile telephone services

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Pr. NGO TONG Chantal Marie is a Research associate in Governance & Democracy at the Nkafu Policy Institute. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science, obtained from the University of Nantes (France). Pr. NGO TONG is also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Ngaoundéré. She is a reviewer and co-editor of the African Development Perspectives Yearbook and a member of the Research Group on African Development Perspectives, Bremen since 2019.

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