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Minister speaks on fears of data price hike as internet providers struggle

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By Lamin Cham

Amid rising operational costs leading to price hikes of services in most sectors of the economy, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy was on Friday asked whether the nation would not wake up one day to a hike in the cost of data.

The cost of internet in The Gambia is already perceived to be high, but curiously it is perhaps the only sector where prices have remained stagnant despite the heavy operations and material costs faced by internet providers.

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In response to these fears at a press conference called by his new ministry, Minister Ousman Bah said he has engaged the internet providers and they have expressed their concern about the escalation in their infrastructural and operating costs “and we are willing to work with them on that.” “With all these sectors raising their prices how can we prevent or stop them from not raising their price? Well, I think the concern they strongly expressed to me is their taxes and as a government, we are aware that we need to work in partnership but actually, the route we are going is for them not to increase but to reduce the cost of internet,” the minister said.

He noted that compared to many places around the continent Gambia has one of the most expensive data prices. “For example, if what you pay for one gigabyte in The Gambia could be only 40 percent of that in Senegal, what are we doing wrong?” he asked.

He added that it was time that there is regulation and policies that would enable the private sector to be driven to growth.

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On the argument that data price is higher because of the limited number of users in The Gambia as opposed to Senegal where the user population is larger, Minister Bah admitted that volume is critical in pricing, but the pricing system can be structured, taking in to consideration the volume of users between rural and urban areas where you have different income earning users. “For example, we suggested they could come with WhatsApp package as a marketing strategy since most people especially in the rural areas use internet mainly for WhatsApp calls,” he said.

The minister also admitted that the costs of services and equipment have risen all over the world but domestically, the Gambia government is responding by giving tax concessions without which most businesses would have fallen by the way side.

 A leading internet provider told The Standard that PURA, the regulators, are not open to setting different data prices for different places in the country.

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