IT’S WORLD TELECOMMUNICATIONS, AND INFORMATION SOCIETY DAY

While digital transformation is require in any society that seeks to progress in the 21st century, Gambia does not even have a trajectory to build digital infrastructures, and there cannot be digital transformation without digital infrastructures. Also, consumers too need trusted products and services from telecommunications & internet providers alike, that is fair, affordable, and sustainable.

Looking at the Gambia, there’s little trust consumers have on their telecommunications companies due to their nature of services & products delivery. Despite there are four players in the telecom market, Gambian consumers do not enjoy fair, affordable, and sustainable digital products & services. It’s expensive, unreliable, and poor in services. Although, PURA (Public Utility and Regulatory Authority) have introduced per second billing last year, March 2020. These charges are effected based each consumer’s consumption in each call within the borders of The Gambia. International calls, which are now mostly conducted via WhatsApp, Emails, and other social media platforms as the preferred medium for communications, has taken a digital shape. Notwithstanding, internet tariffs in The Gambia remain unchanged despite it evolving nature in the 21st century.

While digital transformation is require in any society that seeks to progress in the 21st century, Gambia does not even have a trajectory to build digital infrastructures, and there cannot be digital transformation without digital infrastructures. Also, consumers too need trusted products and services from telecommunications & internet providers alike, that is fair, affordable, and sustainable. More so, the Gambian consumers need a well regulated & accountable telecommunication industry that do not only exploit the gains in digitalization but help consumers to better benefit from their digital initiatives. In this light, PURA must fastened up it’s regulations on telecommunications, and let Gambian consumers be well informed on emerging technologies from their service providers for them to make sustainable choices in opting for a service or product. By this, transparency & accountability from the telecommunications industry cannot be overstated. It’s a must-have!

Information in this age is gold, and one most prominent medium of information is the internet. Advance in technology/digitalization has swift the way we do things; (even though online shopping is not common in The Gambia) majority of us now days buy from online (Amazon, eBay, Ali Express, etc.) And most communications are mostly online (Emails, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, etc.) Throughout this pandemic, these aforementioned digital platforms have been quite instrumental as the Pandemic shifted our life to online and in the cloud.

Notwithstanding, digital divide in the Gambia remain somewhat wide as internet is largely unaffordable for many middle income earners in this country. Most of us rather use the money we have to purchase food, shelter, and clothing than buy mega bite to surf the web, and this gap isn’t shielding anytime soon. However, there’s enormous competition between internet providers, the telecom companies offering post & prepaid services, and the tech companies providing wireless broadband internet services recently, (which is a good development), because the more the players, the better the competition – as it offer opportunity for consumers to have varied choices. Nonetheless, Gambian consumers must be willing to acquire digital literacy to further understand how digital tools & services work – as it appears we’re heading to that world.

INTERNET CONSUMERISM – MOBILE DATA ROB CONSUMERS

it is about time consumers begin to hold telecom companies to account as they provide us internet services; hence, business does not only have to be about profit making but safeguarding the welfare of the people who consume and benefit from their goods and services.

Lamin Njie

“Although, the internet in Africa is limited by a lower penetration rate when compared to the rest of the world, as measurable parameters such as the number of ISP subscriptions, overall number of hosts, IXP-traffic, and overall available bandwidth all indicate that Africa is way behind the digital divide” Gambia inclusive.

We are being robbed daily by the very institutions that claimed to be serving us. Internet is quite expensive in Gambia yet weak in reception. Ask the consumers using mobile data for internet services; calls and other communications. As stated in the AU Declaration on Internet Governance that “ less than 20% of Africans are online, that the majority of those not connected are in the rural areas, notably women and the poor, and that the average cost of fixed line and mobile internet exceeds 50% of average per capita income”. A quintessential plight of average Gambians; and not only those living in the rural areas in our context as Gambia’s poverty rate remain relatively the same since 2016 to date. Thus, our right to freedom of expression and access to information is use as a business hike in our need for access to internet connectivity. It is obvious that we cannot go a day without logging in to our social media account, even though it accumulate little bandwidth, we pay extensively for data connection.

Today, in the Gambia consumers are at the mercy of the big businesses such as our internet providers because there is not a single tool for accountability in internet provision in the Gambia. Consumers usually complain of poor internet services and expensive mobile data but it only begins and ends there.

Studiously, this article seeks to address the accessibility and affordability of internet services as well as the accountability of internet provision for Gambian consumers.  As a consumer, it is not hysterical to think that we share the benefits, the opportunities but also the unearned sufferings and nihilism of vulnerability to structures that undermine our rights, ergo it is our common interest to speak out against such a structures.

On this premise, it is about time consumers begin to hold telecom companies to account as they provide us internet services; hence, business does not only have to be about profit making but safeguarding the welfare of the people who consume and benefit from their goods and services. After all, consumers are the reasons businesses exist; thus, their rights to fair trade, affordability and accessibility to quality products and services is as fundamental as their significance and influence in the market.

Induced by government’s slow commitment to improve infrastructural development compared to the growing demand for internet services, is enough a concern to raise this alarm. notwithstanding, all consumers are entitled to the protection against big business organisations, monopolies and multinational enterprises. Hence, an equal bargaining power between the enterprise/companies and the individual consumers is the missing ingredient in consumer protection as far as internet consumerism is concerned. Today, in the Gambia consumers are at the mercy of the big businesses such as our internet providers because there is not a single tool for accountability in internet provision in the Gambia. Consumers usually complain of poor internet services and expensive mobile data but it only begins and ends there.

The internet is an instrumental element in the realization of AU 2030 Agenda, yet consumers in this country, in particular the poor masses (who struggle to buy megabytes for their social media needs) undergo a terrible ordeal in browsing which they would not be face with under normal circumstances. If this does not compel government to consider intervening in the way internet services are rendered in this country, enforce laws and regulations for internet governance in Gambia, consumers will continue to be exploited with deceptive advertisements, weak internet coverage and expensive internet services. As the globalization with the attendant internationalisation of trade, increasing privatization of business and public utilities coupled with complexities of modern products and services – due to the advancement of technology have combine to put consumers at a precarious situation where state protection is inevitable.

consumers deserve better!