The mobile phone operators, Airtel, Africel, Sierratel, Smart, have said, due to increases in fuel prices that took effect on November 2016, electricity tariffs that took effect in October 2016 and the declining value of the Leone vs. the US dollar, they will increase prices on voice calls by 27%, effective April 1, 2017. The National Telecommunications Commission (NatCom) has agreed to the increase in mobile phone service costs.
According to the Telecommunication Act of 2006, Section 52.1, “… the Commission may regulate the tariffs payable for telecommunications services rendered by public telecommunications operators. Provided that no operators shall be required to offer services at tariffs which do not permit him to recover the cost of providing services plus a reasonable return on capital investment. 52.2, Public telecommunications operators shall not offer services unless before offering and submitted to the Commission written proposals for the tariffs payable therefore.”
Telecoms made a joint application to NatCom earlier in the year and held a public/private dialogue with companies, stakeholders and consumers on Monday, March 27th at the Bintumani Conference Centre.
At the dialogue session, all four telecoms signed a joint communiqué that addressed issued of service quality, customer over-billing, over-charges of Airtel and Africel monies, and poor customer service. The World Bank has noted that Sierra Leone has the most expensive mobile telecom tariffs in the sub-region.
At the moment, Airtel charges Le675 per minute (Airtel to Airtel calls). After April 1st, an Airtel call will cost Le857 per minute – a 27% increase in cost. According to NatCom, the new tariffs will be in effect for four months, on a trial basis.
Edmond Abu, Pro-Poor Crusade, Chairman, deliberated on how mobile operators are basing their tariff increases on the value of the US dollar vs. the Leone, among other reasons. He noted that subscribers pay and are billed in Leones. Companies pay salaries in Leones.
Why tie the cost of mobile services to the value of the US dollar?
Abu pointed out, “Mobile operators increasing their prices is not in the interest of the masses.” Rachel Conteh said, “She’s not happy about the price increase. The services are poor and now they’re asking for more money. It is not right.”
Meanwhile, NATCOM Corporate Affairs Director, Kuyatteh described the new tariff as one that was justifiable as it was in agreement with other the relevant authorities adding that over the years the tariff has been static and the increase is reasonable.
June Rose Johnson, Airtel, Corporate Affairs, said, “The shift (increase) in the tariff is a minimal rate. Despite the exchange rate of USD over the years, Airtel has maintained the tariff.” Johnson added that the new tariff is to be approved by NATCOM in consultation with other relevant bodies.