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Botswana Fibre Networks (BOFINET) has since 2013 spent P700 million on internet infrastructure and is looking to spend over P800 million over the next four years should the budget be approved in order to improve the infrastructure further. BOFINET Chief Executive Officer Mabua Mabua disclosed this on Tuesday when appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Communications Works, Transport and Technology chaired by the MP for Ramotswa, Samuel Rantuana. Mabua said the bulk of money has been spent on rolling out cables covering the whole country. The organisation is responsible for wholesale provision of telecommunication infrastructure for usage by retail service providers. Currently BOFINET provides the infrastructure to three mobile network companies and 30 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) at a cost. However, the Parliamentary Committee raised concerns that the ISP space seems to be congested by foreign-owned companies and that most corporations doing business here use foreign-owned ISPs leaving local ones to idle. In response Mabua said while he could not ascertain why local ISPs are not competitive, he said it could simply be a case of failing entrepreneurship. Most of the 30 ISPs in Botswana are said to be foreign-owned, a thing which worried the committee consisting among others MP for Gaborone Central Phenyo Butale and Specially Elected MP Mephato Reatile.
On challenges facing internet connection in Botswana, Mabua said one of them is high transit connectivity costs to access submarine cables as Botswana is a distance from the sea. He said content located outside the country is driving demand for transit connectivity while on the hand the quality of services provided is not of the intended one. In order to increase affordability, Mabua said the wholesale bandwidth prices have been slashed from $800/mb to $40/mb leased line pricing. He said backbone fibre network has also been increased from 6 000 km to 8 000 km with meshed network configuration for resiliency and says the uptake has been overwhelming. Mabua said more developments are on the way, including WIFI wholesale rollout to all public areas targeting populations of 5 000 people and more as contained in the National Development Plan 11. While BOFINET’s mandate is limited to wholesale provision of internet connection, Mabua said the organisation has ambitions to enter the retail space, saying there is a gap that needs to be filled. He said though they have interest in playing in the retail space that would be up to government to decide.