Access to telecommunication services in Malawi

Friday, December 12, 2008

Reliable telecommunication networks are one of the key components of building an information-driven society. Other key components include robust computer hardware and software platforms. Robust systems will be resilient such that they perform satisfactorily as long as the system load is within the limits of the systems’ operating capacity. However, it is important to note that no matter how robust a system can be, its load has to be within its operating capacity. Exceeding the capacity of a system will obviously lead to persistent system failures hence seriously affecting the reliability of a system. Should we then say that mobile phone networks in the country are exhibiting symptoms of system overload?

An MTL billboard advertising LibertyNet wireless fixed phones

It is a fact that making calls on mobile phones in our country is characterized by dropped calls, unexplained network unavailability, undelivered text messages, truncated text messages among other problems. We know that we are always told that the systems are undergoing upgrades. But as esteemed subscribers, we have a right to know when are the so called system upgrades going to end. It is clear that mobile phone networks in our country can not scale up with the number of subscribers. Introduction of more mobile phone service operators in our country will definitely help to absorb the ‘heat’ which has proven too much to be withstood by Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM) and Zain Malawi.

In addition to this, it is my opinion that the cost of calling using mobile phones is unjustifiably expensive in our country. Moreover, mobile phone call charges in this country are not transparent. It is a fact that mobile phone service operators in our country do not publicly announce their call charges. It is only the fixed phone service provider, Malawi Telecommunication Limited (MTL), which publishes in the media their call charges. Should we then speculate on why our mobile phone service operators seem to be ‘hiding’ their call charges? Should we speculate that they want to maximize profits for their shareholders at the expense of poor Malawians? As subscribers, we need not to be blinded by cosmetic charity works and product promotions conducted by these companies because they just benefit a few people. Obviously, what we need most are affordable call rates that would benefit all.

The introduction of wireless fixed phones by MTL was welcomed by many as a positive step in providing affordable fixed phone access to many. However, it is very difficult to find these phones in MTL shops. This is despite the fact that we constantly see billboards advertising these ‘Liberty’ and ‘CM121L’ phones. One then wonders what kind of advertising strategy this is? A company advertising a product it does not have in stock? Clearly, MTL is missing a golden opportunity to broaden its revenue base by failing to meet the demand for these wireless fixed phones. Instead of focusing on ‘offloading’ some of its workers, MTL has all the chances to expand in a country with one of the lowest fixed phone line penetrations in Africa.

Indeed it is high time that telecommunication service providers in our country start expanding to meet the demands of a growing information-driven society. However, as consumers, we also expect reasonable service charges from these service providers so that telecommunication services in the country are accessible to many Malawians!


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