IT SURELY is about time that the mobile phone sector got a shakeup. The public’s craving for more competition is about to be satisfied with Government authorising the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority to open bids for a fourth and possibly fifth mobile phone service provider.
We agree with the contention that the environment is ripe for more mobile phone service providers to grow the sector. The three operators already in place have served the nation with distinction but there comes a time when other players have to be allowed to come and test the waters. While the three existing mobile operators have done well, there is a feeling that the arrival of the fourth or fifth competitor may help them raise their game. Some consumers feel that some of the existing mobile network operators have been sitting on their laurels because they feel they have no competition. Competition is healthy in an economy like ours because a new comer may bring innovations we are not seeing at the moment. We agree with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission that allowing a fourth mobile service provider will promote competition in the market and result in reduced cost of telecommunication services in the country. Consumers, too, have never favoured the idea of restricting competition in any sector. The coming of a new player may also help lower phone tariffs. We say so based on the experience in the cement sector. Before the arrival of Dangote Industries on the market, cement was extremely expensive. However, as soon as Dangote introduced significantly reduced prices for their products, all the other players suddenly cut the prices for their cement too. The same applies to the banking sector. Before the United Bank for Africa and Access Bank came, the other financial institutions were strangers to mobile banking. But as soon as the Nigerian banks introduced the mobile banking innovation, we have seen even our traditional banks embracing mobile banking. Evidently competition is healthy as it helps rival firms to sit up or lose customers. This is exactly what we expect when other mobile network operators are granted licences to start operating in the country. It will give individuals and corporations a choice between what has been on the market and new comers. It will also bridge the digital divide in the country as citizens will have more tools at their disposal. We know that beyond communication, mobile phones are also used for research. They also serve as guides for the weather, flight information, market information and health tips. We also expect new players to create the much needed employment. The arrival of new players also translates into more money for Government and local authorities from taxes. Charities also stand to benefit from the new mobile network operators’ corporate social responsibility. New players on the market may just be the game changers.