As the telecoms industry has undergone a period of rapid change, the government has put improving the quality of service at the centre of its ambitions for the market. To this end, the Telecommunications/ICT Regulation Authority of Côte d’Ivoire (Autorité de Regulation des Telecommunications/TIC de Côte d’Ivoire, ARTCI), which oversees the sector, has been running annual service quality audits for several years now.
This measure has become increasingly significant since the implementation of the 2012 telecoms law, which established financial penalties of 3% to 5% of an operator’s annual turnover for non-compliance of service quality criteria, resulting in a string of punitive fines being added to the regulatory costs of operators since then. The pressures to improve service quality come at a time when the country’s network has had to handle a considerable spike in the number of users.
At the time of the legal change in 2012 mobile subscriptions had reached just over 18m, by the end of 2015 they had grown to 25.4m, eventually reaching nearly 32.3m as of the third quarter of 2017, according to the latest data from the ARTCI.
In September 2017 the regulator published the results of the 2016 service quality audit, which examined factor’s such as connection times, the number of failed calls and the integrity of messaging services. The worst-performing areas were found to be the time it took for customers to initiate calls and use texting services. Moreover, fines were issued to all three operators for failing to meet criteria; France’s Orange was ordered to pay CFA2.09bn (€3.1m), South Africa-based MTN was fined CFA1.74bn (€2.6m), and MOOV, owned by Maroc Telecom, was ordered to pay CFA1.15bn (€1.7m). These punitive measures came on the back of earlier fines for service insufficiencies: in October 2015 the ARTCI published audit results for telecoms performance during 2014, with MTN the recipient of a CFA1.3bn (€2.0m) fine, while both Orange and MOOV were ordered to pay CFA800m (€1,200).
Besides the financial reprimand levied by the industry’s regulator, operators are likely to face additional judicial pressure linked to performance. In October 2017 the Association of Telecommunications Consumers of Côte d’Ivoire (Association des Consomateurs de Telecommunication, ACOTELCI) announced it was suing the firms based on the findings published earlier that year. ACOTELCI claimed it would look to make operators compensate mobile phone users for the failures.
The focus on service quality is especially relevant as authorities prepare to implement number portability. This change is expected to make quality of service even more critical for the long-term evolution of an operator’s market share. Initial studies were undertaken in 2014, which resulted in the decision to fully implement such a system. The coming regulatory change was signalled in mid-2017, when a tender to manage Côte d’Ivoire’s portability system was awarded to VipNet. The CFA326.6bn (€490m) contract requires the firm to have a centralised base for the portability process in operation ready by 2018.
Besides increasing choice, number portability is generally used by regulators as further encouragement for providers to provide quality service. Whether the change will lead to a considerable number of customers changing providers is difficult to predict, especially given the conditions in the Ivorian market. “If we look at the region, there hasn’t been a big impact with the introduction of number portability. I think it will be determined by the modalities in which portability happens. Also, we are in a country that is multi-SIM, where the population has the habit of having at least two SIM cards, and where customers are accustomed to juggling different offers,” Catherine Assanvo, deputy-director for strategy and development at Orange, told OBG. Assessing the effect of the change on users will take time; however, it is quite likely that independent of the ability for mobile customers to switch operators, service quality will remain an issue for the foreseeable future.
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