Bound to Ethio telecom

Jun 8 , 2019

It is hard to assume anything but complete dedication to the quality of products and services Ethio telecom presents in its enthusiastic advertisements. The telecom giant has been continuously diversifying its services as well as significantly slashing the prices of its products.

In any other country, this would be an example of a company trying to reinvent itself in the face of competition for the sake of attracting more customers or retaining old ones. In Ethiopia, it is a nicety thrown our way by the state monopoly, the sole company allowed to provide telecom services in the country. Whatever change in leadership and management strategy the telecom giant adopts, its sense of entitlement is easily perceptible.

Recently, I bought an unlimited 4G internet package that cost 1,900 Br a month from Ethio telecom. It stopped working after four days.

I called customer service, and I was told to try using the mobile router on another computer, which did not work either. I called again, and this time I was told that I needed to buy a credit of 300 Br, since the service automatically suspends itself on the first day of every month. This did not work either.

The third time I called, I was told that my service was suspended and that I needed to visit one of the telecom’s service centres in the city. In any case, I was going to do exactly that since the telephone customer service operators clearly lacked the skill and knowledge to resolve my issues.

The service was eventually fixed, but this does not account for the fact I had to take time off from work to visit their service centre, losing two days that could otherwise be put to some other good use.

This was like going to a restaurant, ordering something, paying for it in advance and not receiving what I paid for. Such a restaurant would not stay in business for long, because customers demand to get exactly what they pay for.

More importantly, a restaurant would not act in such a manner. It knows that customers are not bound to it, that they can walk away anytime. It is fearful of competition instinctively.

It is true that service provision in Ethiopia is generally lacklustre, but the likes of Ethio telecom push it too far.  The telecom provider knows all too well that the millions of customers it has cannot walk away unless they altogether move out of this country. It also knows that, like clean water or electricity, telecom services are indispensable to anyone or any business.

Ethio telecom is a cash cow, raking in billions of Birr every year for a government with poor domestic revenue mobilisation capacity. These figures belie the lack of liberalisation in the sector than any other economic factors to justify the necessity of restricting the establishment of local telecom firms. Such wealth extraction for the sake of redistribution is not new to this government, and neither has it proven to be able to create a competitive economy.

The telecom sector should be championed for the benefits it can offer the economy, which translates into higher domestic revenues, than the amount of money a state-owned monopoly can inject into government coffers. A nation cannot transform itself and become competitive in a world undergoing a digital revolution with poor telecom services.

Service sectors are becoming increasingly important and communication is a significant component of this. The short-sighted assumption of using Ethio telecom as a cash cow should not be used to distract from the objective of creating an economy that is competitive on the world stage.

PUBLISHED ON Jun 08,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 997]

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