Niger: Faced with users’ grumbling and regulator’s order, Airtel, Moov and Zamani drop prices

By Quentin Velluet

Posted on Monday, 30 January 2023 10:31
In front of a shop belonging to telecom operator Airtel, in Nairobi. © AFP Photo/Tony Karumba

Niger's telecoms regulator has called on operators to lower their rates in the face of widespread grumbling over the introduction of floor prices. The situation is emblematic of the years of regulatory and fiscal inconsistency in this sector.

“Dear customers, Airtel Niger would like to inform you that internet packages and special bonuses are back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday…”

It only took 24 hours for the leading Nigerian telecoms and their competitors Moov Africa Niger, Zamani and Niger Telecom to respond, through their respective social networks, to the call for lower prices made on 16 January by the Electronic Communications and Postal Regulatory Authority (l’Autorité de régulation des communications électroniques et de la poste -ARCEP) – the sector’s regulator.

The latter seems to have done an about-face after a popular uprising against the decision to introduce price floors. In the early hours of the announcement in early January, many users took to social networks and operators to protest.

Price floors

“We have reverted to the prices applied before this decision, which was communicated to us on 1 January and which we were supposed to apply from the 15th of this month,” explained the chief of one of the country’s operators.

The introduction of an asymmetric floor price for voice, SMS and data was initially motivated on ARCEP’s side by a lack of equilibrium in the market.

The regulator had decided, for example, to impose a floor price of 1,100 CFA francs ($1.82) per gigabyte (GB) of internet data for operators identified as dominant (Airtel and Zamani, which, in the second quarter of 2022, together accounted for nearly 80% of subscribers) and 1,000 CFA francs for “non-dominant” operators (Moov Africa Niger and Niger Telecoms).

“The regulator saw a direct interest in raising prices since the fee due to the state is based on the revenue we earn from these tariffs,” said our source, who requested anonymity.

Since 2019 and the forced departure of Orange, little has changed in terms of tax and regulatory policies in Niger. Exhausted by the fiscal pressure imposed by public authorities, the French operator elected to throw in the towel – the Nigerien subsidiary was taken over by the owners of Zamani and minority shareholders at the time.

Tax burden

Fayçal Sawadogo, a project manager at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a specialist in the taxation of telecoms operators in Africa, estimated in a study conducted with Grégoire Rota-Graziosi, director of the research centre Centre d’études et de recherches sur le développement international (CERDI) in France, that the sum of the taxes applied by the Nigerien government and the regulator to the telecoms sector amounts to 118% of the profits that an operator can expect during the operation of its licence.

As a result, communication prices in Niger remain relatively high. While a gigabyte of mobile data should not exceed 2% of the national average monthly income (according to the United Nations Broadband Commission), data compiled by Statista show a GB of mobile internet in Niger costing $1.85 in 2022, while the latest known figures (dating from 2017 and published in 2019) indicate a national average monthly income of $92.70.

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