Is Internet Monopoly Stifling Ethiopia’s Progress?

Like health and education, communication is vital for modern living, business communities, policy-makers, academics, trade, human rights and democracy. They all ensure a healthy functioning of a society. Hence, it would be worth citing, in priority, the national operator Ethio Telecom to take a leading role in the fight against mediocrity, which I believe is a barrier for global economic growth and the principal cause of downfall due to the lack of expected investment return.

Two notable examples of state owned companies come to mind in relation to the perception of client satisfaction. Ethiopian Airlines is fairly client oriented with attractive products and incentive measures to boost employees’ motivation, thus demonstrates increased profitability. On the other hand, Ethio Telecom has an unexploited potential and needs to learn much from other African countries on how to provide efficient and reliable services and products. Because in the area of network connectivity, it is painfully notable that Ethiopia is a country with the lowest rate of access (eight percent), according to Global Attitudes & Trends, issued in February 2016. The same publication revealed that Burkina Faso has 18pc access rate, and Uganda 11pc.

With due respect to the sovereign right of the Ethiopian government to monopolize the telecommunication sector and its unwillingness for liberalization, it is however timely to focus on quality of services and standards, which is essential and unavoidable for improving client satisfaction that in return contributes in generating increased revenues. Its subscribers have also a legitimate right to expect better service.

Starting from a very law foundation in 2005, the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology made laudable efforts by investing in communications infrastructure resulting with a speedy growth of the ICT sector.

Major achievements were made in mobile telecommunication and mobile Internet as well as in expanding rural access with VSAT connections and reducing tariffs for domestic call. But much remains to be done to meet the ever growing demands.

Despite the substantial growth of ICT, Ethiopia remains the least developed African country especially in household Internet penetration due to poor quality of the telecommunication networks that requires better extension and modernization. Regrettably, the fixed line penetration is in steady regression because of unreliable and frequent network shutdown, technical failures, lack of maintenance, nonexistent printouts for tracing calls to support billing anomalies and claims, lack of responsiveness in addressing complaints, and thus a poor customer care.

The high cost for broadband link for a low bandwidth and the poor quality of network do excessively increase the cost being incurred by the customers. The recurrent disconnections, the lack of trouble shooting expertise, and the unavailability of flexible and attractive packages does not only attract massive subscriptions for broadband but rather discourage the existing customers to the extent of being compelled to unsubscribe.

Moreover, the deliberate destruction of public property like fibre network adds up to the shortcomings while it should have been considered as criminal and prosecutable by a national economic security.

Therefore, improving quality standards, security, availability, reliability, affordability of the network and broadband services as well as investing further in capacity building should be a realistic and an achievable goal. Thus, declaring war on mediocrity and activating action plans for better services and product deliveries becomes necessary.

In this respect, reinventing the way of doing business is to the best interest of Ethio Telecom. In priority, investing further on the underlying telecommunications infrastructure and network modernization is indispensable for a mass utility of the Internet.

Importantly, the generally criticized “take it or leave it” attitude needs to change through particular attention to customers’ dissatisfaction. Moreover, the Internet censorship and the system shutdown preceding the state of emergency is an incomprehensible embargo that deserves remediation. Such situation is an obstacle to social and economic progress and affects the moral and business of every Internet users with increased bitterness.

The minimum expected courtesy from Ethio Telecom was to send out prior notification, to apologize and to keep its clients regularly posted on any development.

If there were fear of insurrection through Facebook posted fake information or violence inciting activities, then the issue should have been properly addressed by tracking down and taking legal action against those few wrong doers instead of penalizing the majority of the Internet users.

The leadership should refrain from such hostile measure, which is ineffective and negatively impacts on the economy and on the image of the country. Sensitization campaign and promoting the terms and conditions of Internet utilization as well as increasing awareness on information processing and on individual responsibilities would have been a better option.

During the past regime, there was no Internet to drive uprisings. Shutting down Internet for two months, including Facebook, Tweeter, Youtube, and Viber, is unlikely to resolve the security concerns of decision makers and is unimaginable in developed countries.

Evidently, Internet has become a compulsory working tool for completing administrative, financial, and educational tasks, including online banking, online registrations, distant learning, posting assignments, job seeking, software and anti-virus updates, and even rating local musicians in international competitions.

Facebook, for instance, is not only a social network but also a hosting space for sponsors, donors, advertisers, including local and international media and for a variety of valuable informative sites and commercial promotions. Consequently, the embargo on Internet is responsible for missed opportunities that normally entails loss and damages compensations.

The community of Internet users get penalized, paralyzed and frustrated when denied the right to access knowledge through what has become a preferred IT tool in use from home, at workplace or anywhere outdoor.

The availability of hotel wifi connection is suitable only for those who can afford spending time, money and in an inappropriate working space, which imposes discomfort. The other alternative, which is broadband connection, is unavailable in the newly developed residential areas where Ethio Telecom does not expand or has not finalized the required telephone cables installation.

Considering the importance of telecommunication network to accompany the nation’s transformational targets, the ICT park as well as to increase social and economic growth, Ethio Telecom should not remain indifferent and silent when threatened by mediocre services and would gain from deep cleansing, regenerating and revamping processes.

What a wonderful world it would be if the CEO of the national operator could declare war on mediocrity to combat poor performance and negligence through addressing all the challenging areas of improvement.t.

By Azagne G. Tassew
Azagne G. Tassew is a retired international civil servant residing in Addis Abeba.

Published on Dec 20,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 868]



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