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Opinions of Thursday, 3 January 2013

Columnist: Owusu, Benard

Leave Vodafone Alone

By Benard Owusu

Recent reports of protests by a group calling itself Internet Users Association of Ghana has got me worried. The group is calling on Vodafone to reverse its decision to cap fixed broadband packages. Before i discuss my worries and the merits or otherwise of this protest, let me introduce myself as a customer of Vodafone using both a mobile internet capable line and a fixed broadband service at home. I also occasionally subscribe to internet services of other telcos such as Glo, Expresso, MTN and Airtel. I have hardly used TIGO services and cannot speak much to it.
Most of us who use fixed broadband packages do so for heavy lifting, and also to cure our hunger for faster downloads as compared to the average mobile user. A common term amongst internet users is "Not all broadband is created equal" and to that i may add "not all internet packages are created equal". Those of us who have compared packages across the competitive space can attest to the fact that Vodafone provides one of the best value for money packages on the market.
In a dynamic free market economy where there is competition, it is unheard of that users will try and force the hand of a company to reduce pricing through street protests. The best form of protest is to shift away to competition. Clearly this is where the issue is as none of the competitors of Vodafone offer any internet package that matches the fixed broadband packages of Vodafone. I have heard some complain that Vodafone is enjoying a monopoly in fixed broadband hence such abrasive decisions; how about the likes of Africaonline, Zipnet and others who also deliver broadband to home? Have the protestors checked the price of broadband services of these providers and have they stopped to ponder the costs of running the fixed broadband service and that asking for unlimited High speed data access at such low prices is not sustainable in the short to medium term?
I think the discussion about internet packages and especially fixed broadband packages should be about asking and ensuring that the increased costs and savings of the capped system will go into network expansion and quality improvements instead of asking that rates are suppressed with no corresponding improvements.
I have also heard arguments that the move only aims at profit for Vodafone and will widen the digital divide. Are we as Ghanaians, not interested that as 30% owners of Vodafone Ghana, the company will make profits and pay dividend to the Government for development work? In terms of a widening digital divide, that discussion should be broad based and not restricted to just one little aspect of what makes the digital divide.
As a consumer, i have had cause to complain at times about the Vodafone service as i have about other networks and their internet packages, and will urge all ISP's to up their game. However i feel that these protests are misplaced at the current time and the company must be left alone and provided the space to continue its forward march. Those who are unhappy, can simply move to other ISP's. That simple.