Consumers shall be swindled through new tariffs – CUTS

By Staff Reporter


THE Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) Centre says consumers will be swindled by government through the introduction of a 30 ngwee tariff on internet phone calls.

Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) Centre coordinator Chenai Mukumba, in a press statement, argued that the shift in mobile users’ preferences from conventional calls to internet phone calls did not in any way threaten the telecommunications sector.

She explained that the providers of both the traditional phone call services and internet phone call services were largely the same companies and a claim that they were making loses did not make sense.

On Tuesday, information minister and chief government spokesperson Dora Siliya told journalists at a press briefing at her office in Lusaka that the 30 ngwee tariff the government had imposed on Internet phone calls was not about tax but about keeping jobs in Zambia’s mobile telecommunication sector.

However, Mukumba explained that this arguement did not have any merit at all.

“Firstly, it is important to note that this shift in consumer preferences does not in any way threaten the telecommunications sector as the providers of both the traditional phone call services and internet phone call services are largely the same companies. This decision amounts to double-charging as consumers will still pay for data and now will be charged a 30 ngwee a day tariff by the service providers. This decision is in violation of the consumers’ right to choose based on affordability,” Mukumba stated.

She stated that the announcement of a 30 ngwee came as a surprise as it stated that it was for the benefit of mobile phone companies.

“However it was the mobile phone operators themselves, namely, Zamtel, Airtel and MTN, who all reduced the cost of data bundles by over 70 per cent at the end of 2017. This action increased the affordability of this service for consumers and as such, played a major role in the increase of data users,” she stated.

Mukumba stated further that the government’s decision to increase the cost of internet phone calls would severely affect low income consumers who had switched to “this form of communication” due to high cost of regular phone calls.

“Communication is not a luxury service to the Zambian consumer but a necessary component of the day to day social and economic activities of citizens. It will also take Zambia backwards as the rest of the world is moving forward in the telecommunications sector. In addition, it will have implications on the cost of doing business because as other countries are able to benefit from more efficient and affordable costs of communication whereas Zambian business will be burdened by additional costs that will make them less competitive. This will have the most sever impacts on small and medium enterprises,” Mukumba stated.

And Mukumba stated the CUTS Centre was also particularly concerned that in the past two quarters the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) fined the country’s three mobile network operators for failing to meet quality service guidelines.

“On June 26, 2018 the three telecommunications service providers, namely Airtel, MTN and Zamtel were fined a total of K12.6 million for the first quarter of 2018. This decision was on the back of a similar action taken by the regulator in the fourth quarter of 2017 to fine mobile network operators K3.1 million for failing to adhere to Quality of Service parameters. As such, Zambians have been receiving expensive but low-quality traditional phone services from these mobile phone companies,” stated Mukumba.