Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority's ability to facilitates, as per its own Act, rollout of quality, affordable and safe communications services to the entire population, including unserved and underserved areas, has been put under fresh test by Starlink’s decision to seek entry into the country’s lucrative internet services sub-sector.

In fact, those who understands better how affordable internet has transformed economies and societies at large, have told Botswana Guardian this week that, whichever decision BOCRA takes will have far reaching implications to the country’s socio-economic landscape. A source in the communications sector has stopped short of stating that the Starlink's application, is testing the regulator's mettle to deliver on its mandate. “Botswana stands on the cusp of a significant digital evolution, the decision by the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) regarding Starlink's application to operate within its borders is of paramount importance. The implications of this decision will reverberate not just through the corridors of power but will touch every Motswana, from urban centres to the most remote villages,” an industry informant said.

Elon Musk's Starlink, a global satellite internet service provider under the SpaceX company, submitted its application in May 2023, a development which BOCRA’s director, Broadcasting and Corporate Communications, Aaron Nyelesi has confirmed through a series of responses to Botswana Guardian. It has been more than four months since the Starlink application was made, a development which raises fresh suspicions, especially given the time frame the regulator has taken with similar applications before. “The application is undergoing assessment,” disclosed Nyelesi, adding it will be improper to disclose its status with a third party. Starlink, is globally known for providing superior internet services at affordable rates. “In regulating the communications sector, BOCRA is required to facilitate rollout of quality, affordable and safe communications services to the entire population, including unserved and underserved areas,” stressed Nyelesi. Botswana Guardian has established that there is a vast difference in pricing between Starlink and local providers.

While Starlink, which is satellite based, offers an unlimited 150 MB service for P647 per month, local provider OPQ, as stated on their website, charges a staggering P6,500 (excluding VAT) for a 100MB fibre connection. It goes beyond the pricing, a source told Botswana Guardian, further adding, "the disparity raises questions about market competition and the benefits of diversification. At 150 MB per second the Starlink service will be almost eight times faster that the average internet speed in Botswana of 21 MB per second across all service providers as stated by BOCRA." Furthermore, internet service providers, more often than not, plunged the country into frequent system outages, which are attributed to poor internet connectivity, vandalism, and copper cable theft, among others. Starlink's entry promises, said sources, not just competitive pricing but also enhanced reliability. This could revolutionize service provision, ensuring smoother governmental operations and bolstering the broader economy. Those who prefer a reliable and affordable internet services might turn to neighbouring countries like Mozambique or Zimbabwe to subscribe to Starlink. The cross-border digital migration might result in Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) forfeiting significant Value Added Tax (VAT) and BOCRA losing out on turnover fees, with this revenue windfall redirected to its neighbours. In fact, BOCRA's annual report for the fiscal year, reveals revenues of P185, 855,719. The bulk of this substantial revenue, a staggering P102, 895,472, is derived from turnover fees levied against telecommunications companies.

As things stand, the delay in deciding on the Starlink license application basically ensures those in the lower class continue to lose out, almost being deprived of a basic need. “The national vision of full rural connectivity remains an elusive dream, hampered by funding and technological constraints. Starlink promises to bridge this gap, ensuring that the national broadband strategy's goals are realized, faster and cheaper. By potentially denying vast swathes of the population access to this technology, are we perpetuating the digital divide? Asked a concerned citizen. However, Nyelesi concluded: "BOCRA subscribes to a technology neutral licensing regime. Licensees use whatever technology they determine appropriate for the market."