Weeks after the public was regaled with misleading stories, the real truth about the dispute between Smile Communications Uganda Limited and American Tower Corporation (ATC), has been unearthed. One of the elements at the heart of the dispute is the high electricity tariff whimsically imposed by ATC on firms. Contrary to what the unwary public was made to believe, the electricity provided by Umeme and charged by ATC was excessive, arbitrary, punitive and discriminating. 

For instance, Smile Communications was charged a higher per unit cost of electricity than other companies utilizing similar sites and sources of power.Need it be emphasized that ATC is not an authorized distributor of electricity. Its foray in electricity distribution is a case of round peg in a square hole since its area of core competence is Tower/Mast construction and leasing. Devoid of any license or authorization to distribute electricity ATC is merely scavenging and looking for how to illegally benefit and undermine the system A mild protest by Smile Communications instead of eliciting a dispassionate consideration of the unwarranted high charges led to further brazen display of might is right. ATC without giving any warning or statutory notice disconnected Smile and dared it and all those adversely affected by the astronomical increase in electricity tariff to do its worse. Smile took the gauntlet and approached the court. 

Realizing that it has over reach itself, ATC employed all the tricks in the books to thwart the court process. Instead, it pushed for arbitration with the hope that the arbitral process will favour it. This hope may not have been misplaced, as there abounds proof suggesting that ATC’s handshake in the process went beyond the elbow. The arbitrator, for instance, authored a book which he dedicated to one of the lawyers representing ATC and published it while the arbitral process was still underway. Regrettably, the industry regulator Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has not deemed it appropriate to sanction ATC. If anything, the regulator prefers to see the dispute from a commercial dispute prism. It would be recalled that the apparent inability of UCC to checkmate the bullying tactics of ATC has hoisted in the Uganda market a monopoly that has led to the strangulation of less endowed telecommunications companies.

 At the last count, nothing less than three operators has closed down largely due to ATC’s willful high handedness. The concomitant effect extends to job losses, erosion of levies, fees, and taxes that would have accrued to the Ugandan treasury. It has been estimated that the Uganda government has, in the last two years, lost over UGX 30 billion that it could have earned as taxes, levies and sundry fees from the now defunct companies that were compelled to exit Uganda due to UCC’s inexplicable acquiescence of ATC’s strong arm tactics.


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