I have been compelled to share my thoughts on the digital economy in Ghana, specifically on the statutes that govern it – the Electronic Communications (Act 775 of 2008) and related laws. I chose to write on “Managing the Digital Economy” with subheadings to capture the subject in focus as this will be a multi-part series that aims at sharing information with the hope of getting the citizenry involved in broader engagements on the structures needed for the industry to thrive for the common good.

I am grateful to those associates who challenged me to do this, especially now that they share some of my thoughts, which they had previously labelled “outlandish and (or) utopian”.

A lot has changed since Samuel Morse first telegraphed text over copper wire in 1844. The telephone has gone through various stages of innovation since it was invented, telephony infrastructure has since been transformed into internet-based protocols and there is hardly any talk of copper wire these days, but fibre. This decade has seen billions worldwide communicating daily on wireless phones that have additional capabilities ranging from cameras, recorders, text editors to internet browsers – a far cry from the feature phones we used a few years ago. In fact, with social media, the smartphone has become a tool for social, technological, environmental and political change the world over. This helps fuel the knowledge economy driven in part by connectivity.

The evolution of electronic communications with innovation and advances in technology has continuously posed challenges to the management of regulatory regimes all over the world. These new and “incremental paradigm shifts” have constantly left legislation behind making existing laws appear obsolete, no matter how recently they were passed. Most countries however, have put in place policies and structures that help manage the gaps, reduce the incidence of conflicts and control the impact during major transitions anytime an innovation gains wide acceptance. Disputes between regulators and the regulated are very common, what is not too common is the courtroom wrangling with all the confusing morass of claims and counterclaims. In fact, most of these regulatory disputes are usually resolved amicably through negotiations and mediation until the thin veil separating licensee rights and regulatory responsibility is suddenly ripped apart.


Before deep diving into Ghana’s statute on electronic communications (Act 775) and linked laws, I believe it will be worth touching on our National Telecommunications Policy albeit briefly; these rules were set out in 2004 to help engender competition and spur growth in the sector through innovation while striking a balance between the interests of service providers, consumers and governmental agenda. It is important to touch on this policy because policy directions usually form the basis of the bills that end up becoming laws.

The importance of global telecommunications was highlighted in 1997, when under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation, a special framework was approved by sixteen (16) member nations promising to remove barriers and promote trade in cross border telecommunications. This was two (2) years after Ghana had become a member of the WTO. These arrangements at the WTO had forecasted that about 90% of telecommunications services will be liberalized leading to an estimated increase of one (1) trillion dollars to the collective GDPs of these countries in as little as 10 years. At the time, Ghana was going through its own growing pains having started the liberalisation of its telecommunications sector in 1992. Somewhere in 2002-2003, work commenced on a National Telecommunications Policy in response to market demands as well as in conformance to rules of fair competition being dictated by the WTO and supported by the International Telecommunications Union as well as the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, two groups Ghana had joined decades earlier.

Ghana’s telecommunications policy was completed in 2004 and came into force in 2005 with a promise to “undertake further policy legislative reviews before the end of 2005…. ”. This led to the new laws governing the digital economy being passed in 2008, including Acts 775 (Electronic Communications) and 769 (National Communications Authority). A cursory look through that policy reveals stark similarities that confirm the two (2) aforementioned Acts were built on this policy in many respects. After a critical review and comparison of these documents, I concluded that the coming into force of Acts 775 and 769 signaled the death of our National Telecommunications Policy (2005). These are some pointers;

Provisions on Market dominance (Significant Market Power) addressed under Article 4.3 of the Policy were elaborated upon under Sections 6 (licensing), 20 (interconnection) and 25 (Tariffs)
Spectrum Management (Article 4.4) of that Policy was encapsulated in more detail in Sections 58 – 64 of Act 775
Provisions made on Tariffs (Article 4.6) in the Policy were reproduced more comprehensively in Sections 25 of the Act.
Provisions on Consumer Protection captured in Article 4.7 of the Policy were expanded upon in Sections 26 to 28 of the Act.
Article 5.3 of the Telecommunications Policy which established GIFTEL in 2004 was updated in Section 31 of Act 775 transforming GIFTEL into GIFEC.
It must be stated here that the import of said provisions across both documents are consistent. Some of those updates make referencing certain articles in the Policy a breach of our current laws on electronic communications. Here it must be noted that Act 769 cannot exist without Act 775 (Electronic Communications Act). Based on the above, I can opine that Ghana has no telecommunications policy in force, as such it will be an aberration for anyone to refer to that policy (2004) for obvious reasons.

Ghana’s need for a new Telecommunications Policy that builds on the current laws cannot be overemphasized, the exigencies of modern telecommunications demands a consumer-focused policy that enjoys regular updates to keep us abreast with the times (laws, issues, trends and technologies). It must be a policy that will provide inputs into a competition law that needs to be passed sooner than later; to provide investors in the space a level of certainty and predictability, guaranteeing government its due and consumers their rights and protection. I will in due course provide my prescriptions for a telecommunications policy as part of the series of articles under the caption; In search for policy alternatives.

In Part 2 of this series, we will look at how stakeholder engagements as provisioned for by Act 775 could help improve the industry, its development and impact as well as find space in the law for a fair arbiter; an independent e-communications organisation to manage not only electronic communication disputes, but also have purview of the laws and structures within the digital economy.