Regulating telecommunications: A clogged area in fifth phase proactive

25Nov 2018
By Guardian Reporter
Dar es Salaam
Guardian On Sunday
Regulating telecommunications: A clogged area in fifth phase proactive

ON the occasion of three years since electing fifth phase President Dr John Magufuli into office, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) published a full page advertorial in this newspaper’s edition for November 21.

President Dr John Magufuli

It outlined the achievements made in the communications sector in the past three years, paying tribute to the government’s successful pushing of Tanzania’s industrialization agenda.

The question is whether strides reported during that period are straightforward or show ebbs and eddies, or currents and countercurrents - as institutions search for firm governance models.

Telecommunications is one area where policy and law enforcement has been particularly proactive, while it is perhaps in the financial sector where it has been more interventionist, which in part reflects the scale of governance problems to be resolved, or worked upon.

On the other hand there is a problem of what can be called an ideological imperative of country Tanzania is or it should be, and in the latter aspect many of the more proactive initiatives relate to clawing back some space hitherto taken by market forces to bring it back to the firm control of the state.

Then there are distortions meant to protect consumers, chiefly civil servants as major users of mobile phone services due to corporate fixed telephony inefficiency, for years.

In that case there is a problem of evaluation of performance of TCRA as regulator as it represents the government, which seeks to reduce its own bills and rake in plenty of revenues from mobile phone operations, raising the problem of impartial governance, law enforcement in regulatory practices.

It is difficult to observe the natural justice principle that none shall be a judge in his own case, whereas the government is a large number of consumers of mobile phone services, and they seek to make the law in their own favor. It has tended to diminish competition and enhance predatory activities to recoup losses.

That is the first line of fault when TCRA lists achievements in the past three years, including protecting the consumer, and even ‘measuring satisfaction’ for the consumer, whereas in most other business spheres any problems relating to consumers will be noticed in business ebbs and flows.

In telecommunications the satisfaction of the consumer has been given excessive importance rather than a level playing field and competition as such, which has gained tempo in the past three years.

In the previous period when the main mobile phone service providers were reducing costing of services by promotions, regulators stepped in to cream off some of the finances, as promotional lotteries occupied airwaves, billboards to a sort of nausea.

There has also been a heightened tendency as overemphasizing the security aspect, which has often been cited as an issue in having multiple simcard ownership, whereas it reflects convenience of use for instance not to take out a simcard each time one has the phone under charge.

The regulator, backed by the relevant ministry, went as far as to issue a notice that an application shall have to be made for one to ‘own’ more than one simcard or mobile phone line, as if this is as serious as gun control.

It appeared that having an extra mobile phone line invites the holder to crime, using the line only occasionally under a false name.
Yet the remedy was unnecessary as it merely crippled the level of competition between the mobile phone providers, especially new entrants into the field, as most individuals have lines from traditional service providers, and then there is competition for a second line.

Here the commercial situation at a given moment counts, for instance where a person’s more habitual callers are situated and what network is more available in that zone.

There are also issues of costing of various packages as per their specific durations, and these features can’t be identical with specific individuals, and marketing results are thus neutralized.

When the TCRA says in its advertorial that mobile telephony subscriptions have grown by eight per cent in the three intervening years from November 2015, one is at a loss to interpret whether this is progress or relative decline.

Assuming that population increase is about three per cent annually, it would follow that there is less mobile phone growth in relation to population increase, which also includes those rising to mature ages and thus having to be reachable by phone by parents or peers.

It also shows that consumption of mobile phone services is traversing a plateau, where existing facilities are being maintained, including replacing lost simcards, acquiring first simcard, but to an extent restrained in multiple phone line holding.

The number of mobile money transactions on the contrary showed a marked increase, from less than 150million to hovering around 250million per month since March this year, with lows and highs.

Still, there may have been excessive emphasis on public education on the use of internet media, on account of differing orientations, the psychologically exciting that is battled by priests and their colleagues in the government.

There is also exciting political talk that the police sought to control but was out of reach.