BOCRA and Dstv row bad for new channels in Botswana

By John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana

A row is reported to be brewing between The Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) and MultiChoice Botswana (MCB), the custodian of multi-channel pay-TV and subscriber management services DSTV in the country.

Information reaching Biztechafrica from papers before High Court’s Justice Tshepo Motswagole, say at centre of dispute is Clause 13 of the licence BOCRA granted MultiChoice Botswana. This clause allows the Multichoice to operate as a subscription service manager in Botswana.

In addition to the looming confusion is Section 90 of the BOCRA Act which requires all licensed service providers to submit their intended tariffs to BOCRA for approval. 

MCB argues that it is impossible for them to provide such tariffs because they do not provide such services, instead such services are provided by MultiChoice Africa (MCA).

However, BOCRA states that “If, however, the Court finds that MultiChoice Botswana cannot comply with clause 13 of the License on any basis then BOCRA contends that in the event that MCB cannot comply with clause 13 of the License then the very basis upon which the License was granted is flawed and one cannot simply set aside or exclude clause 13 of the Licence since its provisions are severable.”

“In any event, MCB would be operating illegally since it cannot comply with clause 4.1 of its Licence in as much as the broadcasting service itself would be unauthorised and BOCRA will seek a declaratory order to that effect as part of its counter application,” BOCRA continues.

BOCRA says, the consequence will then be that it will be open to MCB to either conduct business illegally in Botswana or to voluntarily seek to apply for a licence in terms of section 31 of the Act-which will ultimately lead to both MCB and MCA being compliant.

While BOCRA said it was not in a position to provide information in regard to which entity in the group performs which roles, it is clear, however, from the diagram of the group structure that both entities still form part of the same group.

It states that Naspers Limited holds 100 shareholding of MCA and holds 100 MCB’s 51 shareholder, namely MIC Holdings (Proprietary) Limited. BOCRA states that Naspers therefore ultimately controls both entities.

“The fact is that as already alluded to above, MCB pays a very important role in marketing and supporting the DSTv service in Botswana and most importantly in collecting the subscriptions fee paid,” states BOCRA.  

In circumstances where due to failure to comply with Tariff Regulation that subscription fee is unauthorised, BOCRA states that MCB will clearly be collecting such subscription on behalf of its principal MCA.

“It will therefore be operating illegally and hence the importance of clause 13 of the Licence in the light of the agency in relationship between the parties. MCB continues to act as a collecting agent and an agent for various other tasks on behalf of MCA,” said BOCRA.

This impending row between BOCRA and MultiChoice bodes ill for new TV channels that were licensed last year by BOCRA some of which rely on the DSTv platform to send their signals to viewers all over the world.

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