High penetration dogged by poor services

By Gregory Gondwe, Blantyre, Malawi

The Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) says high penetration of telecommunication services has been dogged by poor services rendered by operators, which the regulator says, are failing to monitor due to other restrictions.

Macra Director General Charles Nsaliwa observes that with 30 to 35% of Malawians now accessing some telecommunications, there has been a high level of success that signals that by 2020 Malawi will reach 50% penetration.

However, Nsaliwa says telecommunication providers are offering poor services, contrary to indications shown in self assessment reports it publishes in the local media, which he says, are based on information volunteered by the companies.

Macra is empowered by regulatory provisions to penalise operators for failing to reach certain levels of performance indicators with fines from a minimum of USD2,000.

Telecommunications operators went to court to stop MACRA from implementing Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management Systems (CIRMS) famed as the ‘Spy Machine’ which it says would help it monitor service provisions, among others.

MACRA bought the machine from a US-based company Agilis International at USD6.8 million.

In September 2012, the High Court in Blantyre, ruled that the 'spy machine' had the potential to be abused as it has the capability to eavesdrop into people's conversations and intercept, emails and mobile phone text messages.

“Despite the substandard services from the operators, the authority is failing to penalise underperforming companies because of lack of verifiable evidence to enable it challenge the companies,” complained Nsaliwa.

"The quality of services is just bad. It should not have been like that if we had independent means of monitoring their performance," he added.

On February 14, 2013, Malawi Parliament went against public expectation and recommended the implementation of the machine, declaring that it will monitor financial performance and service provision by telecommunication companies in the country.

Nevertheless, Nsaliwa said MACRA will now start conducting independent assessments of telecommunications operators in the country to ensure that they are providing acceptable services to consumers. He did not elaborate, but said MACRA is the process of setting up systems that will enable it check the quality of services provided by telecommunications operators.

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