Several African countries are heavily penalizing mobile phone and internet operators for their failings. Do these operators have services that are too low compared to consumer expectations?
Throughout the African continent, it is difficult to find a mobile or internet operator that would be unanimous. Consumers blame them for poor quality of service. But what about the facts? According to an annual study published by the Portulans Institute and Sterlite Technologies Limited, the quality of the telecommunications network in Africa is indeed below the world average. With, however, some disparities: if a few countries are doing well - Mauritius, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana or even Morocco - around forty of them are sunk in the abyss of the rankings of the quality of telecom networks around the world.
What exasperate consumers, who pay for their communications or their data at exorbitant prices. In Togo, the government authorities have decided to put operators up against the wall: the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Communications and Posts (Arcep) has decided to sanction operators who do not offer services corresponding to their specifications. In the summer of 2022, the Ministry for the Digital Economy, by decree, imposed on operators sixteen quality indicators to be respected, including download speed or network coverage. However, according to Arcep, operators are now far from covering 100% of these indicators.
Sanctions in Togo and Senegal
Consequence: the regulatory authority has decided to make these operators face up to their responsibilities. Since the creation of Arcep, seven procedures have been initiated with a view to sanctioning telecom companies. Three formal notices were issued and, above all, Arcep affected the operators directly in their wallets by inflicting substantial fines, for some of them up to 2,4 billion CFA francs, or more than 3 million euros. euros. What to do, finally, make operators aware that they have a service to improve.
A survey relayed by Jeune Afrique also shows that Togolese consumers believe that half, or even two-thirds for some operators, of customers blame their suppliers for shortcomings in terms of quality of service. Without counting on cuts or too high prices.
Togo is not the only country to oppose its operators. Since the end of 2021, Senegal has engaged in a showdown with its telecom companies. The Telecommunications and Posts Regulatory Authority (ARTP) sanctioned three operators last year—Sonatel, Free Senegal and Expresso Senegal—with a total of fines amounting to more than 30 million euros. The ARTP criticizes the latter for the poor quality of their services.
But on the side of the operators, we sometimes kick in touch and we prefer to accuse the authorities. Two NGOs, GSMA and the Alliance for Affordable Internet, support African operators and multiply studies to denounce the fines imposed by States. In one of them, the associations do believe that high levels of service quality should be achieved. But they denounce “complex and disproportionate objectives”, but also “a lack of technical standardization and collaboration or consultation of the industry”.
So what if sanctions against operators are so counterproductive? Chad may have found the answer. In 2020, the government wanted to sanction Tigo and Airtel. He had indeed heavily sanctioned the two operators by inflicting on them cumulative fines of 8 billion CFA francs. A sum that has been reinvested in the network, to improve its coverage and quality.