Sierra Leone leading Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) which include Orange – SL, Africell and Qcell have held consultative engagement with key stakeholders and civil society leaders in what was described as Public Private Dialogue (PPD) on the need for a review on the cost of tariff across these Network Service Providers.
This, according to them, came against the backdrop of the unprecedented hike in dollar exchange rate in the nation which has had significant adverse effect on their operations drive as Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) such as what they spend in building new network sites, paying of huge capacity of staff, cost of fuel and their usual gesture in the form of Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) among others.
These critical stakeholders included Operators, Consumers and Regulators.
The Director General of the National Telecommunications Authority (NaTcA), Daniel Bobson Kaitibi, said that while they understandably empathise with the MNOs, but the proposal would have to be critically looked into for further recommendation adding that even if an increment in the cost for tariff would have to set in, let it be minimal so as to make their networks not only accessible but also be made affordable and available.
Mr. Kabia, representing the consumer protection agency, recommended also that much as he endorses the need for an increment in the price for tariff, given the prevailing circumstances as advanced by MNOs, he advised that let it be minimal relying on Section 118 (2) (a) of the NATCA Act as amended adding that the networks should not only be accessible and affordable, but should be available and acceptable.
The operators said their decision is necessary, considering the cost of doing business in the country.
Given that mobile companies are struggling to survive while other companies are even shutting down. So, a Tariff review is needed but customers have to be assured of good internet services.
Due to the Cost Of Operations, Consumer Protection Agency (CPA) and other CSOs have supported a minimal increase in telecoms tariffs at Public-Private Dialogue at Country Lodge in Freetown.
Consumers say the idea of a mobile tariff increase is expected and points can be made for it. However, the value for money is key. If tariffs are normalized, reviewed or increased, customers need some renewed benefits too. It is important that customers are given more bonuses and unlimited packages. Customers want better mobile/data connectivity and sustainability.
Sierra Leone still has one of the cheapest data in Africa amidst the global economic crisis. This gives MNOs enough justification for tariff revision to achieve value for money. MNOs are now expected to increase mobile tariffs in a bid to improve connectivity and quality of service as Sierra Leone gets closer to the 5G launch.
Reports are that tariff normalization will benefit people with connectivity and sustainability in villages across the country but require huge investment.
Fair enough, the economic situation is affecting all businesses and so mobile companies have good reasons to adjust tariffs as long as they provide good services.
MNOs have made passionate appeal in a recent media and public engagement as the cost of Telecommunications operations continues to soar in the country.
They pointed out that since the start of 2022, they have suffered a lot in terms of inflation in the country. They maintained that they have invested so much to expand their network so that everybody in Sierra Leone, even in the remote village can be able to make, receive calls, and also access the Internet.
MNOs emphasized that “Over the last month, things are becoming difficult for us because of the inflation in the country and the Forex Exchange which are threatening to cripple our business. For example, the last time tariff was increased for mobile companies in this country was in 2017. And in 2017, the exchange rate was around 7,258 old Leones so now the exchange rate is 18NL to one dollar and all the businesses we are doing even with Zoodlabs that is based in Sierra Leone we are paying in dollars. In 2017, we are paying 7,258 today we are at 18,000NL per and this cripples our business.”
Experts have argued that tariff normalisation will create competition in the market and bring more companies to invest and expand the internet across the country
Mobile companies are on life support, so it is important to review Tariffs to prevent a shutdown.
Public engagement has revealed that the customers are happy with Tariff Increase as long as the Internet services are fast and effective.
A consumer in Freetown said: “now that civil Society representatives and other stakeholders have endorsed tariff normalization, it is our collective responsibility to monitor mobile Companies, so we can get good mobile and internet service.”
Civil Society and stakeholders Engagement have now set the stage for tariff normalization. But mobile companies are expected to raise awareness of the benefits of tariff increments and upholds it commitment to provide renewed benefits to subscribers.