Except for a handful who speak out and demand their rights, many Malawians are known to suffer in silence. Some have argued this is the reason they are abused by some all-powerful corporate citizens as well as politicians.
Perhaps this is one reason I am not surprised that many subscribers of Airtel Malawi Limited’s Blackberry service are merely grumbling on social media or to those who care to listen to them about the increase and change in tariff plan. In any currency, the raise is a rip-off and abuse of customers. For the record, I have no Blackberry, I am just trying to speak for the voiceless.
In such situations, subscribers have a right to lodge a formal complaint with the Competition and Fair Trading Commission or indeed the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra), the regulator, through its Consumer Affairs unit.
Airtel Malawi may have its own valid justification to restructure and reprice the service used by many for Internet connectivity. However, I feel, in the spirit of fair trading, there should have been adequate notice given to the customers to enable them find alternatives, if any.
For all I know, the Malawi mobile phone market is a duopoly by Airtel Malawi and TNM. If trends are anything to go by, I will not be surprised to see the largely home-grown TNM following suit in adjusting upwards its Blackberry tariff plan for data.
In the “most likely” event of TNM raising its Blackberry data tariff plan along the lines of its competitor, that will just complete what has become a predictable trend in the industry.
Personally, I would be willing to pay the moon for a good service. However, the service Malawian consumers get from the players in the telecommunications industry is not that premium to justify such high rates.
Why should people pay a premium price for networks with poor connectivity, high call drop rate, slow Internet connection?
Earlier this year, I shared a shocking extract on pricing of telecommunications services in Malawi from the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Communications Environment Report published in October 2013.
Briefly, under pricing, the report, quoting the International Telecommunications Union (ICU), said the cost of a monthly mobile basket of services (voice calls, data costs and voice calls) for Malawi in 2008 was 57.4 percent of the monthly gross national income per capita, which was above the average for sub-Saharan Africa of 23 percent. This made/makes Malawi the third most expensive out of 32 African countries surveyed. It was the same for fixed phones and broadband Internet. Now this is 2014 and we want to continue making headlines for the wrong reasons?
In his 2014/15 National Budget Statement, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development announced a reduction in the corporate tax rate paid by mobile operators from 33 percent to 30 percent “to ensure that we avoid discrimination.”
The last time government raised the corporate tax for the operators in 2011, subscribers were slapped with tariff hikes. They passed on the extra costs to the helpless consumer.
With debate on the budget still in progress and the measure expected to come into effect on October 1 2014, I am looking forward to see what the reaction of the operators will be this time around.
Ironically, despite the reduction, Airtel Malawi has already announced a tariff hike for postpaid and corporate prepaid customers effective the same date!
Besides Airtel Malawi and TNM, other players in the sector are Access Communications Limited (ACL) and Malawi Telecommunications Limited (MTL). Two other players, Celcom and G-Mobile (which has been engaged in legal battles regarding its licence), are yet to join the fray.
However, looking at the pricing of services, I have always wondered whether indeed more players will mean better tariffs or it will simply be more of the same for the consumers who will dig deeper into their pockets while the operators and their investors cart home fat bonus cheques. n