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UCC speaks out on data expiry

The recent announcement by Kenya’s leading telecom firm, Safaricom, to introduce ‘no expiry data’ tariff plans contrary to the global practice in the provision of mobile data services has given Uganda Communication Commission a new task.

Kampala, Uganda | ISAAC KHISA | This task is about determining whether or not to intervene in data price market that operators are charging.

Ibrahim Bbosa, the UCC communications boss told The Independent that the events in Kenya and Ghana are interesting and that the commission’s economic regulation team is looking at them.

“We should pronounce ourselves on this (soon),” he said. Bbosa, however, was quick to point out that following Kenya’s footsteps could mean the cost of data going up and thus hurting consumers.

He said the local telecom firms purchase data in advance implying that they have already made their commitments in the long term amidst few users.

“We also know that prices decrease with consumption and that is where the Kenyan market beats us.

Laying a kilometre of fibre in Uganda costs Shs100million. This means 70km of fibre would cost Shs7,000 million yet users are fewer, Bbosa said, adding that the cost of carrying internet in Kenya is far lower than that in Kampala.

Safaricom, which turned 19 on Nov 30, rolled out data, voice and SMS packages without expiry dates. The roll-out came amid a case filed by lawyer and Information and Communication Technology practitioner Adrian Kamotho, who wants the Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal to stop Safaricom and Airtel from irregularly depriving consumers of their unused data bundles.

Under the new plans, which took effect immediately, Safaricom’s 33 million subscribers can buy airtime and data for any amount, starting as low as a shilling.

“As a permanent proposition, customers purchasing the new Call and SMS plans on *544# will get 50 percent extra talk time with every purchase enabling them to talk more for less,” acting CEO Michael Joseph said in a statement to newsrooms.

But the telecom firm retained data packages with expiry dates, meaning customers have the freedom to choose.

Data plans with expiry dates are more generous, with Shs3,600 giving a subscriber 500MB data, 500 SMS and free WhatsApp for 24 hours.

But if a customer  choose to spend Shs3,700 on a data bundle without expiry date, then, he or she  will have to buy SMS and forego chatting on WhatsApp for free as they will get 500MB only.

But the most profitable company in East and Central Africa gave extra 45 percent data to its customers, especially those spending between Shs36 and Shs720.

“A customer purchasing Shs180 worth of bundles will now get 10MB with no expiry up from 7MB that would expire in 24 hours,” Joseph said as he promised more simplicity and honesty.

Shs 2.2trillion

“Today, we are starting afresh and going forward we aim to be even simpler, transparent and honest in everything that we do,” he said.

Safaricom, which started operations in 2000, also launched a new strategy as it strives to remain the market leader.

The company, which announced a Shs2.2trillion net profit in March, pledged to serve customers “in under five minutes both at its more than Shs1,800 Safaricom shops across the country and whenever they call the Call Centre”.

“Starting 1st November 2019, new customers joining the network will get SIM cards for free at Safaricom shops and dealer outlets, upon which a customer will top up with Shs1,800 airtime to activate their line,” the company said.

“Customers will also have the freedom to choose a number of their choice when they purchase a new line.”

Ghana’s experience

In Ghana, the government banned expiry of voice and data bundles. The Ghanaian Ministry of Communication in a letter dated October 9, directed all the country’s telecommunication operators to stop the expiry of voice and data bundles purchased by consumers.

“All unused data and voice bundles purchased by subscribers that has not been used must not expire and must be rolled over with the next recharge,” read the letter by Ghanaian Ministry of Communications.

Currently, Airtel Tigo is the only network operator in Ghana which offers data bundles that does not expire.

Consumers will be hoping that the leading network operators, MTN, will adhere to the directive and stop expiring data and voice bundles.

MTN is the largest mobile operator in Ghana, occupying almost half of the market with 46.8 percent market share. The ministry also directed all telcos in Ghana to stop the instant deduction of the Communications Service Tax (CST).

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