Time to change East African telecom laws

Posted on May 5, 2014 08:40 am

More than half the population in East African Community member states has mobile phones according to the latest statistics but less than a quarter of them are satisfied with telecom services. Most of the respondents complained about poor network coverage, slow Internet speed and high rates of drop calls. That, pretty well sums up the response of the East Africa’s telecommunications companies and Internet service providers to the latest East African Countries infographic that claim they provide lackluster services to their customers. Surprisingly, telecom machineries in public relations, marketing and social media platforms of the telecoms in the region and those of Internet Service Providers have for once gone silent. Slow Internet speed that I have had first hand experiences is one of the crises in the telecommunications sector dominated non-indigenous private telecommunications companies and ISPs is facing according to the report.

One section of the report argues that at the root of the crisis in all five countries are regulation, de-regulation and liberalization policies. Few East Africans agree that while liberalization this made possible the rise of competitors that challenged long-time monopoly of government telecommunication companies, some of the telecoms and Internet Service Providers are misusing weaknesses in the existing laws to fleece end users, big and small, private and public, with excessively priced rates, mediocre services and after sales services that are a combination of insanity and stupidity. Regulators in the region are being accused of worsening the problem through their ill-timed policies and their outdated mindsets. For example, the report quotes an analyst who says it is a standard reply to consumer complaints from regulators who always say “we can’t do anything about it” because the law allows telecom operators and Internet Service Provider the powers to determine rates and introduce services.” Up to now, some East African countries do not have the standards for Internet and telecommunications services.

The report found out after interviewing regulators in the region that what constitutes different spectrums and broadband, they referred them to telecommunication companies to find out. Every now and then reports are published on dropped mobile calls, but the telecom operators have been used it for marketing shenanigans against their competitors, with most of them claiming to be the best telcos, based on cherry-picked portions of such studies whose source of funding or involvement of regulator is zero. After reading the report I visited regulators websites in the region and there were no updates on their sites and social media platforms accounts was the same and they apparently seem not to care with some having updated their sites in 2013. Telecommunication companies are required to obtain permits from regulators because they are a public utilities whether they are privately owned or not. They should not use liberalization and deregulation policies to watering down the public utility character of telecommunications and instead they should be thankful to the millions of East Africans who support their business.

Contador Harrison