Saturday, May 30, 2020

Bocra should do more to protect consumers against unscrupulous ISPs

There is clear evidence that some internet users are paying more than they should.

And this is not by mistake, but by design of Internet Service Providers who are literally getting away with murder because the regulator, either out of

a lack of capacity or will is not doing much to monitor the pricing conduct of ISPs.

As the telecommunications regulator, Bocra (Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority)should do substantially more than it is currently doing to protect consumers, especially the more vulnerable ones.

Predatory pricing by ISPs is set to grow especially given the fact that competition among them is growing, and also because with more people connecting to the internet, the industry will only grow in size.

Bocra should also make it mandatory for ISPs to fully and honestly explain to customers what options are available before making a decision on what Broadband to settle for.

At the moment there are just too many customers who out of ignorance are taking speeds that are neither suitable nor price efficient for their needs.

In other jurisdictions for example, existing customers pay less than new customers as a reward not only for their loyalty but also because over time all costs related to investments or connections into their premises would have been recouped.

But not so here in Botswana!

Old customers continue to pay the same as new ones, if not more.

If ISPs were more honest and customer centric than they are, they could go out of their way to be more proactive in advising customers about different new and 0065isting plans they might have based on their usage and also lifestyles.

It would seem like ISPs are out to make a quick buck rather enhance overall competitiveness at industry level.

If that is the case, then it is a kind of shortsightedness that can only be corrected by allowing more players that are willing to give consumers greater value for their money – including by offering choice.

Admittedly, internet prices in Botswana have been steadily coming down.

But they are not yet at a place where Batswana can stop seeing the internet as luxury, rather than an essential tool not just for communication but also for economic empowerment.

Digital economy is the future. And if the country is to realize its full potential going that route, those who are key players in this industry have to play by the rules, do so fairly and most importantly enable the users to get the full benefits of what the industry can offer.

It is important to note that investing in future technologies will remain prohibitively expensive unless a majority of our people are allowed to break into the digital economy rather than be kept outside such as is the conduct of some ISPs.

In the meantime we are of the view that Government should devise a new plan to fast-track connection of internet in the rural areas.

Rural areas are commercially not viable for many private companies.

But down the line, after primary infrastructure has been set, there is a potential that commercial viability and take-up in these areas could significantly grow.

More connections in the rural areas would lead to a reduction of return on investment time frames.

In other words just investing on internet infrastructure in the rural areas including in farming areas can itself be a big stimulus and catalyst for economic growth.

But the exorbitant cost of putting up infrastructure is in the meantime turning many potential investments away.  

The Government owned Bofinet cannot in our view be relied on to do that on its own.

Thus other companies in the private sector that at the moment see no incentive in rolling out to these areas could be subsidized, the same way that Government telecommunications companies have been subsidized.

These could be done through creating a subsidy fund that concentrates mainly or primarily on infrastructure.

Such money, if drawn from the fund would later on be returned to government for further investments in areas that are even more remote.


Read this week's paper

Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.