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Abandoned mid-air through data flight

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They, surely, have no idea about the Chinese saying that goes: “The falling leaf returns to the roots of the tree.”

If they did, they would have realised that, when they grow too frail and old and are forced to retire after reaching retirement age, they will be forced to buy airtime scratch cards or use electronic value – otherwise known as mobile money services— to top up airtime at the exorbitant prices we, ordinary people, have become accustomed to.

That is when they will realise that the ‘Data Must Fall’ campaign is not some ill-conceived idea but a citizens’ good faith initiative aimed at warning telecommunications sector players that their thieving does not go unnoticed.

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All I am saying is that I am baffled by the trick some telecommunications sector players pulled on us end February and early this month when they announced that they had introduced value for money data bundles.

Customers of the telecommunications’ companies were celebratory, relieved that, finally, their prayer for affordable services had been heard.

Others even took to social media, where they turned the heat on telecommunications companies that were acting as laggards— unwilling to join the bandwagon and give customers some smooth ride when it comes to airtime and data bundle costs.

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When one other company followed suit, there was elation, with social media users singing praises about the mobile service providers that had introduced flexible and value-for-money initiatives.

It was as if, all of a sudden, the ceiling of data bundles had dropped so low that it was unbelievable.

If mobile service providers had done this to appear robustly hospitable; then they killed it. Through their timely action, they quickly established some chance intimacy with the customer, giving people respite in these hard times of the Covid pandemic.

As it turns out, we have been fed a bluff meal. TNM and Airtel have finally informed all and sundry that the provision of cheap internet data was a temporary measure as they were simply trying things out. That is what ‘trial basis’ means, after all.

Before we forget it, TNM introduced Pamtsetse, an unlimited bundle package, before Airtel Malawi unveiled its PaNet Mofaya, which is basically a limited bundle package with a big volume at a less cost.

However, in their terms and conditions— do not forget that terms and conditions are put in barely readable letters— they ‘clearly’ indicated that they were running the internet bundles’ initiatives on promotional basis.

The trial, Malawians have come to learn, is for three months.

Writing on its website, Airtel Malawi indicates that PaNet Mofaya internet bundles were launched on a promotional/trial period of 90 days starting from March 2 to May 31 2022 while, separately, TNM wrote the same, saying the Pamtsetse promotion period will last until April this year.

TNM further disclosed that a continuation or discontinuation of the packages depended on customer response.

Funny enough, ICT Association of Malawi President Bram Fudzulani did not come up with a clear position on the issue; that is, whether to condemn the mobile service providers for ‘hiding’ the truth in ‘small letters’ (I am talking of terms and conditions) or praise them.

The most painful part, Dear Pain, is that the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) knew all along that the new bundles were introduced on trial basis but chose, like the mobile service providers, to keep mum on the issue.

It was as if Macra was being complicit on an issue of public interest.

As such, by acknowledging that the regulator knew about the ‘trial’, it has messed up its relationship with service users; yes, the ordinary man like me and woman on the street.

Macra has given the service user a dummy, too.

I am not even convinced with the words of Macra Communications Manager Zamdziko Mankhamba, who has told us in the face thus: “The operators [TNM and Airtel] are currently assessing the promotions and, after the designated period, a report will be produced from which a direction will be made. We, as Macra, are optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction to ensure that all operators are offering affordable ICT services.”

I cannot believe it.

Maybe it is high time we, ordinary people with empty pockets, amplified the ‘Data Must Fall’ campaign. Macra cannot fight for us because it has become a player in dribbling past us.

Maybe Consumers Association of Malawi Executive Director John Kapito is right that Malawians should not rely on data bundles as a long-term solution to ‘Data Must Fall’ calls.

But there is no sense of relief. His words are too little and coming too late. Where was he when the mobile service providers were planning the ‘coup’?

We, Dear Pain, are on our own.

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