Dar es Salaam. It seems like telecommunications regulators in Tanzania are far from being on the same page with cell phone users in the country over the affordability of cell phone plans provided by service providers and the compliance of the providers with regulations governing the sector.
The issue of cell phone plans is a very sensitive one in Tanzania and with the ongoing complaints about the rise in the cost of living in the country the debate around it persist, with cell phone users accusing telcos of secretively changing the plans in a way that hurt consumers and the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) of failure to regulate.
It was against this background that TCRA held a media briefing on Tuesday to simply deny just that.
TCRA’s press conference came shortly after its May 2 altercation with an online media outlet that alleged that users have sought government intervention in the latest move by telecom services providers in Tanzania to lower the plans of internet bundles but require users to pay the same price as they used to for previous plans.
The media outlet was summoned by the regulator and forced to issue a clarification over the matter, going as far as apologizing for not seeking TCRA’s side before publishing the allegations.
A director from the TCRA responsible for industry affairs Dr Emmanuel Manasseh gave a long presentation to journalists on Tuesday that aimed, among other things, to provide answers to persistent questions that mobile phone users have been raising lately over the use of their plans.
These include the high cost of cell phone plans imposed by service providers; cell phone plans spent without subscribing customers to use them; and faster usage of the cell phone plans.
Dr Manasseh gave five explanations that he hopes would put the questions to rest. The first explanation was the improvement in the quality of photos and videos, taken by users and stored on their devices, which lead to the increase in their size.
The second explanation concerns the increase in network speed and the capacity of a smartphone. The third one is about a user having many apps on their devices that are used frequently and run frequent updates.
The fourth explanation is the practice where apps that are stored on the devices run updates in the background without the user even being aware of them. And, finally, on the high cost of plans, Dr Manasseh said TCRA’s study shows that the price of, say, an internet plan in Tanzania ranges between Sh2.03 per MB and Sh9.35.
“Tanzania is the cheapest country to buy an internet cell phone plan in East Africa and in the SADC region,” Dr Manasseh said, citing a 2021 study by the UK price comparison site Cable. “For Africa, Tanzania is on the list of six countries that charge their citizens less for mobile data.”
Many journalists however seemed to be unsatisfied with the explanations offered by the regulator, something that led many of them to ask TCRA many questions that not all of them were answered.
The same feeling could be seen among people who were following live on the press conference through the regulator’s YouTube channel.
The number of SIM card owners in Tanzania increased from just 39,665,500 in 2015 to 55,293,345 in March 2022, according to TCRA. The number of internet users has increased from 17,263,523 in 2015 to 29,913,512 in the same period.