Nowadays, making a call and let alone sending a text message in Malawi has become a luxury very few can afford due to high tariffs.
Players in the telecommunications industry have justified their recent increase in tariffs to the free falling kwacha, rising inflation rate that stood at 3.97 percent in February 2013, vandalism of equipment and the ever-increasing pump price of fuel which is making operation of their stand-by generators expensive.
Well, these are valid arguments given the economic situation in the country. In a country where power supply is very unreliable, to provide customers (or subscribers as I prefer describing them) with uninterrupted service 24 hours a day and seven days a week, network operators need the stand-by generators more.
Granted, infrastructure in the telecommunications industry is very expensive both to purchase and replace (when either broken down or vandalised).
Every business venture wants to make profits and give its shareholders their investment’s worth in form of dividends, among others.
However, while I understand the contributing factors to the rise in tariffs, I feel the operators and their regulator, the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MRA), owe subscribers a matching quality service.
Surely, you cannot expect customers to be paying K80 or more per minute for the substandard service they mostly get in form of high call drop rates (mafoni ongoduka before one is through despite having enough credit).
Many subscribers also got raw deals from network operators who have sold them expensive handsets with frustratingly short battery life, forcing many to take their chargers wherever they go.
Currently, there are four network operators in the country: Access Communications Limited (ACL), Malawi Telecommunications Limited (MTL), Airtel Malawi Limited and TNM. It is worth noting that the operators’ poor service is not a mere perception or malicious accusation. For example, Macra’s own third quarter 2012 quality of service report (covering the period July to September), noted continued poor service of telephone services and pledged to implement independent means of verifying the quality.
Reads the report in part: “While the averages look good on paper after aggregated quarterly averages, Macra is aware that consumers are experiencing poor quality of services from the operators in some areas of service delivery.”
I cannot agree more with the findings of this report published in February this year.
Personally, I use three of the four networks daily, the fourth one I ditched due to continuous poor service and traumatising customer care (or should I call it customer-scare) at its call centres. So far, I have never regretted my decision.
In the early days of cellphone technology here in Malawi, we were told that the then player, TNM, needed a competitor which came in the name of Celtel (later called Zain and now Airtel). That time, MTL was State-owned and the sole fixed-phone network operator. ACL was licensed as the second fixed-phone network operator.
Today, all the current four operators have licences to provide fixed and mobile services, including data.
There are also other players, notably, Celcom and G-Mobile (which has been engaged in legal battles regarding its licence), which are yet to roll out their services.
Suffice to say, in a country where three people, on average, share one cellphone, according to a recent World Bank report, I believe four was a good number to enable operators pass on the benefits of competition to consumers.
Sadly, though, that is not the case. When I look at the tariff structures of the operators, the pricing is modelled along the lines of cartels. The differences, especially for the inter network calls, is very minimal.
If four players is not competition enough to pass on the benefits, then I wonder what is.
We are already paying through the nose to make calls, hence, my plea is for a matching high quality service and not the raw deal subscribers are being subjected to with nowhere to get redress.