KAMPALA, April 26, 2023 – The paradox of yearning for ICT connectivity but at the same time resisting the roll out of base stations (masts) was at the centre of the multi-sector dialogue convened by UCC on Wednesday morning.
In her opening remarks, Eng. Irene Kaggwa Ssewankambo, the Ag. Executive Director, called for a balance that acknowledges and promotes ICTs as an enabler of socio-economic transformation, while at the same time taking into consideration the safety concerns of the public regrading communications infrastructure. “Connectivity/coverage is needed to harness ICTs and realise quality of service. We live in an era of so much information, but is everything true? Such has fueled fears among the populace about masts/base stations installed in communities to enhance coverage. A balancing act,” the Ag. ED observed.
In line with UCC’s mandate of promoting and safeguarding the interests of consumers and operators as regards the quality of communication services, equipment, and infrastructure, the Commission conducts compliance measurements on the wireless communications transmissions of the licensed mobile network operators. UCC also conducts periodic studies/surveys to evaluate compliance of the RF exposure levels from base stations within the set international safety limits.
During the dialogue at UCC House in Bugolobi, the Director ICT and Research, Christine Mugimba, presented findings of the assessments and investigations conducted by UCC in 2021, which showed that the various base station sites surveyed were within the internationally acceptable safety radio frequency (RF) exposure limits. Various stakeholders present thanked UCC for the dialogue initiative and pledged their continued support.
Gerald Kawere, the Senior Data Analyst Engineer in the Ministry of ICT & National Guidance, concurred with the Ag. ED on the need to find a good balance, noting that ICTs are an enabler of socio-economic transformation according to the National Development Plan (NDP III), and yet this objective cannot be achieved without adequate infrastructure and public confidence in their adoption and use.
Dorothy Kabagambe, the CEO of ATC, a leading tower development company, decried the trouble they go through to build towers across the country, but nevertheless thanked UCC for the support rendered to address this challenge. Ms. Kabagambe observed that Uganda has a long way to go in serving underserved areas with digital infrastructure, citing statistics that show Uganda lagging behind Ghana, a country with a smaller population and comparable land mass, in terms of tower coverage.
While Uganda, with a population of 47 million and land mass of 241,550 square kilometres has 4,700 towers, Ghana with 31 million people and a comparable land mass of 239,000 square kilometres has 7,391 towers, she said. The ATC CEO also called for a conversation and combined efforts on how the complex message about radio frequency exposure being within internationally acceptable limits can be transmitted to ordinary people in the simplest language possible.
To enhance understanding of the environmental implications of communications infrastructure, UCC has developed a compilation of frequently asked questions and answers which can be found at https://www.ucc.co.ug/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/FAQs-ON-RF-EXPOSURE-AROUND-TELECOMMUNICATIONS-BASE-STATIONS-compressed.pdf
In a related development, it was revealed during the dialogue that Uganda will from 15th to 19th May 2023, host the Sustainable Digital Transformation week for the African region. The focus of this event is to initiate a global discussion on sustainable digital transformation in the African region, with the goal of identifying common solutions and exploring opportunities to leverage digital technologies while promoting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and minimizing negative environmental and societal impacts.
The event shall, among others, have sessions on electromagnetic compatibility, and EMF considerations for a sustainable digital transformation where international experts in the field will address the public concerns on health and safety around telecommunications installations.