Today, information and communication technology (ICT) has virtually brought the world into our hands. Courtesy of ICT, gone are the days when one had to physically travel from point A to B to deliver a message.
Indeed, courtesy of technology, people are able to work or pay for services from their homes or any corner of the world. The cellphone is one gadget that has revolutionised access to ICT, especially in developing countries such as ours where very few have access to computers.
To spice it all, nowadays there are smartphones such as Appleâ€™s i-Phone, Nokiaâ€™s E and N series, Samsung and the BlackBerry which are actually miniature computers with the technological capacity to plot your bearings (depending on operator) and help you find your way through unfamiliar territory via satellite.
In Malawi where ICT access is still limited such versatile models of cellphones are making a big difference in redefining the rules of communication and social intercourse. Today, short message service ( SMS) have become the currency of day-to-day interaction, spawning its own language, its own grammar and syntax which only the initiated can understand.
In summary, cellphones have become such a fixity in our day-to-day lives that it is hard to imagine how we functioned for so long without them!
But, I am concerned that the performance of these wonder gadgets closer home is being hampered by some inefficiencies among operators. For example, there are countless dropped callsâ€”those calls that are prematurely disconnected before end of conversation. In fact, at one time authorities protested that President Bingu wa Mutharika was being embarrassed by the high number of prematurely disconnected calls everytime he spoke to fellow world leaders over the phone! Now, the President is not someone who cannot afford airtime to make a call!
What is the benefit of having a cellphone if most of the times when you try to load airtime the response you get from the operator is “result unknown?” Why should I pay for airtime if everytime I want to make a call I get the response “error in connection”? even for a number that is active!
Why should operators advertise customer service numbers that do not work or are always congested everytime subscribers try to seek assistance? Even checking oneâ€™s credit balance on prepaid phones is a headache nowadays.
Some operators also ask their customers to subscribe to certain services, especially Internet access, yet, in many cases, the subscribers are unable to use the service. Meanwhile, their subscription is heading towards the expiry date! Usually, there is no explanation from the operators. If there is one, it usually comes days after the customers have been inconvenienced.
I hope the regulator, the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra), is aware of this and, hopefully, will “act” to give consumers the real deal, not the raw deal we are getting now.