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Sierra Leone implements controversial new floor plan for phone calls

Country's telecommunications industry regulator has enforced a new controversial pricing plan for all voice calls.
Country's telecommunications industry regulator has enforced a new controversial pricing plan for all voice calls.

The government of Sierra Leone, via the country’s telecommunications industry regulator, the National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM), has introduced a new floor price for telecommunications services – a move that has not gone down well with subscribers.

According to NATCOM, the floor price for all voice calls (including promotions, bonuses and bundles) will be Le590 per minute for all on-net and off-net voice calls.

The directive is understood to have been communicated to the executive leadership of several mobile telecommunications operators including Orange, Africell, QCell and Sierratel.

NATCOM’s Director General, Maxwell Massaquoi said the organisation considered operators' "disparate responses in the discussions held" by NATCOM and operators.

The DG added that the new pricing structure, effective from 6 March 2020, is in line with the provisions of Sierra Leone's Finance Act of 2020.

The new floor price represents an approximate 9% reduction (of Le60) compared to the previous plan Le650.

This will mean an end to offers that subscribers were leveraging to make phone calls at low prices.

Orange ended its Kola offer that allows subscribers to make unlimited calls to friends and family members for Le5,000 within 24 hours. Africell also ended its Wuteh-The offer that provided 24-hour on-net calls for its subscribers.

Disgruntled subscribers accused the regulator of disrupting their means of communication.

Civil society group, the Native Consortium and Research Centre, said the new “toxic, exploitative and unpatriotic” directive compelled QCell to increase its voice tariff from Le200 to Le590 per minute.

However, telcos have also voiced their support of the decision of the regulator.

Africell's head of media relations, John Konteh said the regulator only intervened to stabilise the sector’s tariffs, adding that the operators had to abide by the regulator’s directive.

Mabel Mason, Orange’s spokesperson added that as the industry's official regulatory body, the operator had to comply with the directive.

The announcement is expected to affect the latest market entrant, QCell, which only began operations in Sierra Leone in 2019. The operator had relied on low tariffs to acquire market share in the market that has already been dominated by Orange and Africell.

The regulator issued a statement which reads, in part: “By instituting this new floor price, NATCOM wants to contribute to healthy competition in the national telecoms market.”

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