TNM plc, a local integrated ICT and mobile phone services provider, has over the past five years invested in excess of K100 billion in network upgrade.
The revelation comes amid growing concerns of intermittent network coverage, mostly in rural and hard-to-reach areas.
TNM Brands and Communication Manager Limbani Nsapato, in a response to an emailed questionnaire, that in order to reach a healthy said the company has invested in four redundant routes to the under-sea cables through neighbouring countries of Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia.
“This comes at a huge cost for TNM, which cannot go un-noticed since we are a landlocked country. In addition, we have high monthly operational costs that are associated with delivering internet to our consumers from our data centres in Lilongwe and Blantyre to the remotest areas in Chitipa and Nsanje.
“For us to make internet available to Malawians, we have very high distribution costs through more than 20,000 touchpoints we have across the country. We also have huge energy costs, since all our sites need to have generator power, which demands costs to run over 830 sites across the country. These sites also have other costs, including security and maintenance and optimisation of equipment,” he said.
Commenting on concerns over exorbitant internet charges, Nsapato said TNM is currently selling most of its data bundles at an effective rate of K1,691 per 1GB which is relatively low against an average of K2,811 per GB in Southern African Countries as posted on How Much.net.
However, 2019 statistics from How Much.net show that countries in the southernmost part of Africa pay the most for 1 GB of data.
Zimbabwe pays the highest price both in Africa and in the world at $75.20 per GB while Sudan and the Democratic- Republic of Congo pay the least at $0.68 and $0.88 per GB, respectively.
Nsapato, however, said licence coverage requirements, regulatory fees and taxes on data pricing to the customer are significantly high.
These include Value Added Tax and Excise Tax which account for 29 percent of the price that customers pay for data services.
“You will also note that, from our effective data rate of K1,691 per GB, the actual TNM charge is only K1,275 and the rest are government taxes and levies in form of 28.15 percent for excise and VAT and 3.5 percent Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra) gross revenue levy” he said.
Last year, government through Minister of Information Gospel Kazako engaged network service providers—TNM and Airtel—to find possible ways of reducing data costs.
Currently Macra is working on effecting changes in the Communications (tariff) regulations 2020 which will, among other things, deal with communication services charges.
In August 2020, TNM announced an 80 percent drop in data Pay-Go rate, from K25/MB to K4.95/MB.
At a Pay-go rate of K4.95 per MB, the highest that one can pay on the TNM network for 1GB is K5,068.