Internet tariff will impact on SMEs, says CUTS

THE Consumer Unity and Trust Society Centre says the government’s decision to introduce a 30 ngwee tariff on internet phone calls amounts to double-charging as consumers “will still pay for data.”

Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) Centre coordinator Chenai Mukumba, in a press statement, argued that the shift in mobile users’ preferences (from making conventional calls to internet phone calls) did not in any way threaten the telecommunications sector “as the providers of both the traditional phone call services and internet phone call services are largely the same companies.”

On Tuesday, information minister Dora Siliya told journalists that the 30 ngwee tariff the government had imposed on internet phone calls was not about tax but about keeping jobs in Zambia’s mobile telecommunication sector.

“Firstly, it is important to note that this shift in consumer preferences does not in any way threaten the telecommunications sector as the providers of both the traditional phone call services and internet phone call services are largely the same companies. This decision amounts to double-charging as consumers will still pay for data and now will be charged a 30 ngwee a day tariff by the service providers. This decision is in violation of the consumers’ right to choose based on affordability,” Mukumba stated.

She stated that the announcement of a 30 ngwee came as a surprise.

“However, it was the mobile phone operators themselves, namely Zamtel, Airtel, and MTN, who all reduced the cost of data bundles by over 70 per cent at the end of 2017. This action increased the affordability of this service for consumers and as such, played a major role in the increase of data users,” she stated.

Mukumba stated further that the government’s decision to increase the cost of internet phone calls would severely affect low income consumers who had switched to “this form of communication” due to high cost of regular phone calls.

“Communication is not a luxury service to the Zambian consumer but a necessary component of the day to day social and economic activities of citizens. It will also take Zambia backwards as the rest of the world is moving forward in the telecommunications sector. In addition, it will have implications on the cost of doing business because as other countries are able to benefit from more efficient and affordable costs of communication whereas Zambian business will be burdened by additional costs that will make them less competitive. This will have the most sever impact on small and medium enterprises,” Mukumba stated.

And Mukumba stated the CUTS was also particularly concerned that in the past two quarters the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) fined the country’s three mobile network operators for failing to meet quality service guidelines.

“On June 26, 2018 the three telecommunications service providers, namely Airtel, MTN, and Zamtel were fined a total of K12.6 million for the first quarter of 2018. This decision was on the back of a similar action taken by the regulator in the fourth quarter of 2017 to fine mobile network operators K3.1 million for failing to adhere to Quality of Service parameters. As such, Zambians have been receiving expensive but low-quality traditional phone services from these mobile phone companies,” stated Mukumba.

Source: The Mast

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