By Melvin Tejan-Mansaray
The National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) has following a stakeholder’s consultation with Mobile and Internet Service Providers (operators), consumers, civil society representatives and the Media resolved that the appeal put forward by Operators to increase interconnection tariff rate should remain as it is.
“The reason why we called this interaction is to enhance what the industry describes as public private dialogue to bring everybody together for them to talk on request by operators to increase their tariff,” Momoh Konteh NATCOM’s Commissioner highlighted.
The engagement which was held at the Bintumani Hotel, Aberdeen on Monday 18th July 2016 featured various presentations by Mobile and Internet Service Providers on the need to increase their tariff rate.
On behalf of Mobile Service Providers, Managing Director Airtel Mr. Dappor said that the current tariff was set six years ago at Le210.00 which was tied to an exchange rate then.
He said: “the exchange rate has today climbed and in that vein we wrote to NATCOM for a review of tariffs,” adding that Service providers are running a business to make modest profit.
He noted that most of their inputs are tied to US Dollars and has increased in term of exchange rate value disclosing that they are also having issues in which they are buying fuel in bulk adding to their operational cost.
Africell’s Managing Director said that they are paying twenty five percent more for fuel which is an added cost; that the dollar has increase sixty five percent, equipment and services that we buy are in dollars and we are collecting Leones.
“Another thing is that GST which we are absorbing as operators for a fifteen percent.
Also, the minimum wage affects a huge portion of employees (security, driver and cleaners); a huge cost on payroll and another is that this year there is an increase in PAYE,” he said stressing that for healthy, expansion, purchase of new equipment and services to offer to consumers, ‘ if we can’t increase tariff, we will not be able to move forward in the long run, we will have bad quality and the NATCOM Chairman will levy heavy fine on us.’
Edward Sesay Managing Director Sierratel said that although they are listening to the public, they are a business and need to be sustainable.
“Our only way to remain in business is to maximize minimal profit,” he said.
Mr. Bopandra Managing Director SMART Mobile Company said that there are issues to look into and pointed out that tariff increase is for them to offset their cost.
He commented that the area of interconnection fee which is costing seven cent but this has vastly increase due to the dollar rate and therefore urged that companies share sites for their towers, highlighting that there are some places where there is not revenue compared to running cost and however suggested that these areas have to go roaming with just a tower.
On behalf of ISP’s, Mr. Conrad CEO IPTEL said that ISP’s are smaller operators compared to the Mobile Operators.
“We think that because of the increase of dollar, we want you consumers to know that business now is not easy and we are not in it to lose. We are asking for an increase because we want to stay in business,” he argues.
Managing Director Online, Mr. Sankoh passionately expressed a case that seven cent is the cost for local traffic but the mobile operators want to increase this.
He said: “The price of telecom is too very expensive, I will disagree with increase but with NATCOM also because AU is asking for tariff harmonization and globalization, meaning that the continent is to get lower tariff contrary to what we are asking here.
I think the tariff must come down,” he said lamenting that the fiber should have ushered in cheap tariffs which is too expensive right now. He said the Government is putting too many charges on Telecoms.
Hon. Binneh Bangura Chairman Information and Communications Oversight Committee House of Parliament thanked the two Ministers of Information and Communications.
He said: “If we are to increase the tariff, it is the people living in remote areas that will suffer immensely; Sierra Leone is not just Freetown.
I am appealing to you to put the people first, all of your points are very valid but the time is not yet ripe; our people are suffering to get thing to eat.
Increasing the tariff will lead to a disaster. I am appealing that it remains as it is so far,” the MP appealed.
Minister of Public and Political Affairs, Madam Nanette Thomas remarked that operators have not fully fulfilled their mandate in providing services across the country and appealed for no increase because schools are about to open along with other demands.
She thanked the NATCOM Chairman for given the public the opportunity to be educated on the issues.
In his keynote address, Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Cornelius Deveaux said: “Government will like to join the MP, Minister to say government is looking into these concerns” but appealed that the tariff remain as it is and therefore urged operators to use the existing infrastructure to minimize operational cost.
Nevertheless, Consumer Association, Consumer Protection Agency and Consumer Council stressed that the price of dollar will drop and there will not be a corresponding reduction if the tariff is increase, therefore they appealed for the tariff to remain as it is.
They also call on government to reduce taxes on operators.
Bike Riders Association and Motor Drivers representatives echoed similar messages for tariff present tariff to be maintained as it is and pointed out that the conversion from Leones to Unit is confusing to them and urged operator to improve on the internet service.
Market Women and Market Men also expressed similar position in letting the tariff stand as it is, on the basis that the Ebola outbreak caused hardship in the country, a similar opinion shared by; Civil Society (Charles Mambu, William Saio Lamin), Petty Traders Associations among other.
At the end of the day, it was however agreed that the Telecom Operators’ request be overruled in the interest of the landslide view that there should not be an increment in the tariff.
“We have decided to maintain the tariff as it is. We are not changing the tariff for now, the final communiqué will be published,” NATCOM Commissioner Momoh Konteh disclosed.