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Minister says gov’t cannot force GSM operators to reduce data prices

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By Tabora Bojang

The minister for communication and digital economy has claimed that the high cost of internet and data is a concern for everyone in the Gambia but the government ‘cannot force’ operators to cut the prices.

GSM operators in the Gambia have often been criticised for charging exorbitant fees for data and internet, credit deductions and poor services.

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In May 2022, the Gambia was ranked by Business Insider Africa as the eighth nation with the most expensive average usage of mobile data.

The director general of Pura, Yusupha Jobe, disclosed to The Standard in March that a new monitoring equipment has been purchased to monitor and measure service quality of operators and investigate complaints on data and other issues.

However, when Minister Ousman Bah appeared before lawmakers yesterday, several parliamentarians raised concern that data prices are higher than they should be and demanded answers on what the government is doing to lower the cost.

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The minister replied that efforts have been taken by the government since his appointment to find cheaper data alternatives for Gambians which saw main operators, Africell and Qcell, reduce their data prices.

“Africell now has a promotion called WhatsApp bundle and this was based on engagement between my ministry and Africell. Now 90 megabytes is D10; 100 megabytes D15, 500 megabyte- D50, and 1.5 gigabytes D100,” Minister Bah told the Assembly.

He said prior to these engagements there was nowhere in the country where D10 could get a megabyte.

Similarly, the minister said Qcell has also made an average discount of 37 percent on their data tariffs.

“With Qcell, 20 megabytes went down from D9 to D7.50; 150 megabytes went from D58 to D30,300 megabytes went from D112 to D60, 1.5 gigabytes from D580 to D225, 5 gigabytes from D775 to D595 and 10 gigabytes went from D1310 to D950,” Minister Bah added.

He further claimed that Comium’s low data charges are owing to an agreement the government had with them to reduce data costs before renewal of their licence. “With Gamcel after our conversation and engagement, they have not increased their tariff. It is still the same.”

Asked if the government has other plans to further ensure data price reductions by GSM operators, Minister Bah replied: “This is a first priority for our ministry. That resulted in our engagement with Pura and they have hired an independent consultant to do a market assessment that will give us guidelines to guide us. GSM operators have tariff rates that they follow and the tariff rate that they are using to charge has not been reviewed for more than 5 years.

So, at our level we cannot force them to reduce the fees or the amount of charges they are charging unless there is a market assessment and that is the responsibility of Pura.”

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