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Starlink’s Arrival to Transform Ghana’s Internet Landscape

Satellite Internet to Catalyze Nationwide Digital Empowerment

by Oluwatosin Racheal Alabi

In a move for Ghana’s telecommunications landscape, the Minister for Communications and Digitalisation, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, has declared the government’s intention to license Starlink, Elon Musk’s satellite internet venture, to operate within the nation. This announcement, made during a parliamentary briefing on March 18th regarding recent internet disruptions, marks a significant stride towards enhancing Ghana’s internet infrastructure and accessibility.

Starlink, part of SpaceX, aims to provide high-speed internet across the globe through a constellation of low-earth orbit satellites. This service is particularly appealing for regions with limited access to traditional broadband services, promising to bridge the digital divide in such areas.

Owusu-Ekuful’s declaration came amid concerns over internet stability in Ghana, spotlighting the government’s proactive steps to diversify and secure the country’s internet backbone. By licensing entities like OneWeb and Starlink, alongside encouraging other operators to establish their presence in Ghana, the government underscores its commitment to fostering a robust and resilient digital infrastructure.

Furthermore, the minister emphasized the importance of organizations adopting resilient data management practices in light of the internet disruptions. She advocated for the utilization of at least two tier-three or tier-four data centers located in different areas within Ghana, suggesting the National Data Center as a primary or backup data recovery host.

Historically, Ghana lacked a framework for satellite licensing, a gap the National Communications Authority (NCA) has addressed over the past year. Drawing insights from global best practices, the NCA has now established a comprehensive satellite licensing framework. This new structure delineates the application process for frequency authorizations for satellite services in Ghana, outlining service categories, licensing requirements, and associated fees.

Despite the enthusiasm for Starlink’s entry into the Ghanaian market, the minister issued a caution in December 2023 against premature acquisitions of Starlink equipment, citing the absence of a formal license from the NCA at that time. This stance was rooted in the legal framework governing electronic communications in Ghana, which mandates licensing by the NCA for all electronic communication services.

Assuring stakeholders of the government’s due diligence, Owusu-Ekuful highlighted that the forthcoming licensing of Starlink, following an industry-wide consultation and approval process, would enhance internet connectivity options for consumers while ensuring increased regulatory oversight.

However, the minister also acknowledged the cost implications of utilizing satellite services like Starlink, noting their likely appeal to high-end subscribers due to the relatively high fees for hardware and services. To address the need for affordable internet access across different socio-economic segments, the government is exploring backhaul satellite solutions with various service providers under the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) guidance. This effort aims to catalyze discussions towards finding feasible solutions for broader and more economical internet accessibility in Ghana.

This licensing initiative signals Ghana’s broader ambition to strengthen its digital ecosystem, leveraging advanced satellite technology to promote internet penetration and reliability. It aligns with regional efforts to operationalize the Regional African Satellite Company (RASCOM), advocating for collective action over individual country initiatives in satellite communication endeavors.

The government’s approach, balancing innovation with affordability, seeks to lay a foundational pillar for Ghana’s digital future. By welcoming operators like Starlink, Ghana anticipates a transformative impact on its internet landscape, offering new avenues for economic growth, education, and social inclusion through enhanced digital connectivity.

As Ghana stands on the cusp of this digital revolution, the implications for its society and economy are profound. The licensing of Starlink not only promises to mitigate the challenges of internet disruptions but also paves the way for a future where high-speed internet becomes a cornerstone of national development. This visionary step reflects Ghana’s commitment to embracing global technological advancements, positioning itself as a leader in digitalization on the African continent.

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