The Kingdom of Lesotho is located in Southern Africa, an enclave of South Africa. Lesotho has an area of 30,355 km, with 10 administrative divisions (Berea, Butha-Buthe, Leribe, Mafeteng, Maseru, Mohale's Hoek, Mokhotlong, Qacha's Nek, Quthing, Thaba-Tseka). The population as at July 2014 was estimated to be 1.942 million with a literacy rate of 89.6%. Sixty one percent of the population is between 15 and 64 years of age (median 23 years). Maseru, the capital city, has a population of 239,000 (2011 CIA World Factbook). The official languages are Sesotho and English.
Key sectors in Lesotho are agriculture, followed by industry and services. Lesotho produces about 90% of its own electrical power needs. Economic growth is dependant on manufacturing and services. Export partners include US, Belgium and Canada.
Lesotho has developed a good policy framework. The ICT Policy was approved and adopted as a working document in March 2005. The main driver of the ICT policy is the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology. The Universal Access Fund was established in 2009. The Science Technology and Innovation Policy was reviewed in 2010 and proposed that an Innovation Fund is established to support research and research capacity development. The Communications Act 2012 became operational in April 2012.
In relation to Communications, according to 31 March 2013 there were 50,290 fixed phone lines in use compared with 1.581 million mobile phones. Internet uptake has been hindered by high bandwidth costs and slow and unreliable connectivity. Overtime this should change as Lesotho now has access to high speed international bandwidth through EASSy. While there has been an increase in Internet cafes they are primarily in urban areas with 40% in Maseru. There has been a gradual increase in mobile broadband usage. Lesotho currently has two mobile telecoms providers - Econet Telecom Lesotho and Vodacom Lesotho, which both provide a similar level of 2G and 3G voice coverage. The use of smartphones and other mobile devices has made the rollout of 7.2Mbs 3G coverage a mandatory development route for both operators.
In terms of ICT Infrastructure, Lesotho is a participant in the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) through a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), the West Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC). The cable went live in July 2010 and places Lesotho at a position to have direct access to high-speed bandwidth for broadband services, which can support an increase in GDP, productivity, and employment growth. While this development supports the transformation into an information economy, broadband remains expensive and limited to a small number of people.
As part of the Universal Access Fund, the Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA) is supporting the establishment of the Internet Exchange Point in Lesotho (LIXP). Since the creation of LIXP, LCA is in a position to ensure that all internal Internet traffic is handled within Lesotho. The LIXP project has helped address the issue of connectivity with the international bandwidth challenges. To help in this respect, LCA has a partnership with Afrinic. Work has started to refurbish the data centre space for the LIXP in Maseru. The data centre will host the LIXP facilities and the infrastructure for the management of the country Top-level domain (.ls).
In terms of national back bone and accessibility around the country Lesotho has mostly copper cables and fibre optic cables to a certain extend and satellites where there are no cables.
There are one public university (National University of Lesotho), Lerotholi Polytechnic, Lesotho College of Education, National Health Training Centre and a private university (Limkokwing University of Creative Technology).
The Government of Lesotho in its endeavour to develop an ICT-based Information Society has put a National Strategic Development Plan in place for 2013 - 2017. Its main goals in relation to ICT are to improve the ecosystem and backbone infrastructure (require facilitation of access to high speed broad band and access to basic ICT services throughout the country), to reach universal access and widen ICT literacy, review the e-government strategy and plan to facilitate implementation, facilitate smooth migration from analogue to digital, promote the growth of e-services, and develop niche ICT sub-industries through FDI, research and development and enhance surveillance capacity to deal with cyber security.
The ICT Policy, which was adopted in 2005, also has objectives that strongly support infrastructural development including: Universally accessible advanced communications networks, provide and sustain diffusion of ICT infrastructure for access to ICT services and products, encourage infrastructure sharing among network operators to optimize scarce resources, create a favourable investment environment for the private sector in the development of ICT infrastructures and endorse competition in the ICT sector so as to increase customer choice, quality and affordability of services.
Lesotho's ICT Policy identifies nine critical areas for the development of the country, namely;
- ICT and supporting infrastructure
- Education and human resource development
- Enabling legal and regulatory framework
- Rapid delivery of ICT services to society
- Agriculture and Food Security
- Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources
- Gender and Youth
In 2009, the Universal Access Fund was established as a contributory partnership between Lesotho Communications Authority (LCA), Government of Lesotho and the two network operators, Econet Telecom Lesotho (ETL) and Vodacom Lesotho (VCL). The fund has made progress in extending the communications infrastructure in previously under served rural areas, which were seen as non-viable by the network operators. To date the Fund has completed seventeen GSM network infrastructure projects comprising of twenty four Base Transceiver Stations - eleven awarded to VCL and six to ETL. The seventeen projects cost in the region of M70 million and the Fund allocated c.M49 million as subsidies.
The proposed regulatory framework encourages the deployment of converged technologies, which can be offered over existing networks using IP technology.
In relation to overall infrastructure, the country intends to adopt a technology neutral approach in selecting appropriate, scalable technology needed to build robust communications networks. Secondly, the policy seeks to encourage the expansion of the national electricity grid in order to support the deployment of ICT infrastructure.
The Parliament passed the new Communications Act 2012 and it came into operation at the end of April 2012. It is aimed at consolidating all pieces of primary legislation that preceded it and would enable Lesotho to truly participate in the global information society.
The Communication Act (2012) provides for:
1.1 The establishment of the Universal Service Fund and thus addressing more areas of communications other than just access;
1.2 The introduction of co-regulation and self-regulation within the broadcasting industry through the establishment of the Broadcasting Dispute Resolution Panel (BDRP);
1.3 The introduction of competition management in the communications services markets. Better regulation of market competition, interconnection agreements and anti-competitive practices would ensure efficiencies and would result in higher quality services as well as lower communication costs, and;
1.4 The introduction of regulation of Postal Services by LCA. When regulated, postal services would develop faster than at the present moment.
Many ICT projects were launched in the public and private sector including the Lesotho Government Data Network (LGDN), IEC (2012 elections registration confirmation & results on Website, 'campaigns' on Social networks), World Vision (including Area Development Programs - emergency relief), Lesotho Meteorological Services (Climate Action Intelligence, involves High Performance Computer) and others (Postal, Traffic, Passports, Security).