This week information emerged how the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority has issued a directive to the three mobile operators, Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited, Mascom Wireless Botswana and Orange Botswana (PTY) Limited to review their On-net/Off-net mobile voice tariffs.
The directive, we have been told, will see the trio reviewing their tariffs annually to remove the off net premium for all their services over a two year period ending June 2018. This is indeed good news to consumers. That is exactly what regulation is all about. That is what we meant when we said BOCRA should “develop teeth”.
For the purpose of background, on the issue, we have been told that in January 2016, BOCRA engaged Interconnect Communications (ICC or Consultant) to develop a cost model and pricing framework for both wholesale and retail services in the ICT market in Botswana. The main objective of the project we have been told was to develop cost models and pricing framework that is relevant for use now and in the future to calculate the cost of providing wholesale and retail service services for mobile, fixed and internet services.
We have to say that it was or rather it is commendable of BOCRA for having undertaken this project of reviewing the existing on-net and off-net pricing across the three mobile operators to determine any possible element of discriminatory pricing and anti competitive behaviour.
There is no need to stating an obvious fact that BOCRA as the regulatory body for the communications industry in the country has been tasked with ensuring that the industry runs efficiently, fairly, ethically, innovatively and legally. Section 6 of the Communications Regulatory Authority Act makes it mandatory for BOCRA to protect and promote the interests of consumers, purchasers and other users of the services in the ICT sector in Botswana.
For a very long time we have called on BOCRA to ensure that it gains “teeth” as provided by subsection 1 of Section 6 of the ACT to monitor the performance of these three mobile companies in relation to not just their investment but also the quality of their services. For a very long time, commentators have made it clear that mobile tariff rates, and lately data connections are too high and need to be reduced to benefit the country’s consumers.
To be fair to these operators, they have always been over-charging their customers as allowed to by BOCRA. This is so because it is the authority that is supposed to assess the proposed mobile phone charges and either approve or counter-propose to ensure the charges are cost-oriented. After approval of the charges, the Authority should constantly monitor the operators to ensure adherence to the approved charges. But what we have been seeing or hearing is an outcry by customers of how “cheated” they are by these three companies ÔÇô with the level of accusations obviously varying with each specific company. That is why we are of the view that the March 2017 directive was long overdue and thus highly appreciated by the affected consumers. There is no doubt that whether you are a business entity or the consumer at the receiving end of the services, you want to know that the industry is well regulated and that you will receive quality product and the best value for your money. This is exactly what mobile phone users in the country require from BOCRA.
Whilst we praise BOCRA for a job well done with regards to On-net/Off-net mobile voice tariffs, we also wish to use this space to once again to call it to ensure that we have a radical reduction in the cost of internet. Botswana might be boosting of having one of the highest levels of access to mobile telephony in Africa, but the majority of our people still do not have affordable access to broadband speeds for Internet connections. That is reality. Another reality is that just like in the case of mobile voice tariffs, only BOCRA can save Batswana from the “vultures”.
The truth of the matter is that if no action is taken, the enhanced ICT services required for effective participation in the knowledge economy and society will continue to elude the vast majority of our country. Already there is some evidence that Botswana’s competitive position in ICT is slipping, as measured in international rankings.
At the end of the day, in promoting their commercial interests, the mobile telephones operators in this country should recognize that both the profit motive and socio-economic interests are not mutually exclusive. As such, all the operators should ensure that they must play a pro-active role in ensuring that access to broadband becomes affordable to our people.
The World Bank has identified broadband connectivity as a key catalyst for economic growth with every 10 percent increase in connectivity enabling a 1.38 percent growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For a country such as ours which has high unemployment rate and downward revised economic growth projections we should be seen to be prioritising internet connectivity which has potential to advance any plans grow the economy.
The #Bottomline is that the telecommunications services including, low voice tariffs, faster and affordable internet remain indispensable if not a prerequisite for improving the socio-economic livelihoods of any poor society. So going forward we should bear in mind that the high cost of making a call, lack of access and slow connectivity to internet hampers economic growth and by extension job creation.