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Technology bites Macra

Regulator loses billions of kwacha as traditional voice calls become less attractive

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SULEMAN—That is becoming our new revenue area

Authority (Macra) has disclosed that the development of digital platforms such as WhatsApp, Zoom and Microsoft Team has reduced the amount of user fees the authority used to collect through international calls by over 90 percent.

Some African countries such as Ghana have been pushing for ways of raking revenue from over-the-top (OTT) digital services, as telecommunication customers shift from traditional ways of communicating like voice.

The departure is said to be reducing governments’ revenue.

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An OTT digital service is a type of media service offered directly to a telecommunication customer via the internet.

In Malawi, many telecommunication users are opting for platforms such as WhatsApp for calls, thereby reducing expenses they incur when using traditional calls.

The development, on the other hand, is said to be promoting digital inclusion.

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Macra says between July 2014 and June 2015, the revenue which the authority collected was $14,423,591 (about K14.4 billion at the current exchange rate) but between July 2021 and June 2022, the amount collected went down to $1,460,009 (about K1.4 billion).

Speaking on the sidelines of an open day the regulator held in Mzuzu on Friday, Macra Director-General Daud Suleman said telecommunication used to be a voice-based trade with a lot of voice calls from one country and terminating in another country.

Suleman said when a call was originating from another country, it was charged at a higher rate because it was crossing borders to be handed over to another network.

“Recorded international call minutes have dropped by 90 percent, from 180,294,887 minutes in the 2014-15 financial year (July 2014 to June 2015) which was the first year of full implementation to 18,250,110 minutes in the 2021-22 financial year (July 2021 to June 2022).

“That extra cost, which has been passed on, was the cost that Macra was eyeing and Macra would get as some of its revenue, but the coming in of internet-based applications, such as WhatsApp has seen a reduction in the number of voice calls that are coming into Malawi, therefore reducing our revenue through the international calls termination, so what we are seeing is an increased usage of internet and increased usage of data and that is becoming our new revenue area that we are concentrating on,” Suleman said.

Commenting on the open day, Airtel Malawi Managing Director Charles Kamoto said it was a great platform to get feedback from customers.

“So, we applaud Macra for coming up with this initiative. We have clarified a lot of things such as affordability and what we do in our area such the MoFaya product, which is offering a lot more data value than we have been offering before and we have clarified on what we are doing to improve our quality of services as our usage of products is increasing, thus exerting pressure on our network,” Kamoto said.

An information and communications technology (ICT) expert Fredrick Maotcha is of the view that while OTT services have obviously resulted in a decline in revenue for Macra and telecommunication companies, it is “doing a great job” in driving digital inclusion in the country.

“Now, people are able to call their relatives abroad without worrying about spending a lot of money. Malawians are also clinching opportunities such as jobs after undergoing interviews through Zoom or even WhatsApp,” Maotcha said.

He then warned against taking any move towards taxing OTT, saying it will derail the “little progress” the country is making in digital inclusion.

“Already, the telecommunication companies seem to be doing their best to improve digital inclusion by making data affordable. Of course, the data remains expensive but at least there is some progress,” Maotcha said.

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