Mobile Phones Networks in Benin

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Controversy continues in Benin’s mobile phone industry following the suspension of MTN and Moov

Early in the morning of Thursday, July 13, 2007, 950,000 subscribers witnessed a suspension of mobile phone networks by Areeba and Moov. The suspension follows the ministry of information and communication’s dissatisfaction with a decision by Areeba and Telecel to change their brand names to MTN and Moov respectively.

According to reports the incumbents failed to meet the requirement put by the Cotonou government to pay 30 billion French CFA in license fees, an issue that MTN is still negotiating with the authorities there. An official statement announcing the decision of the suspension of the licences said, "the regulatory authority of telecommunications in Benin said they realized, after studying through the files of two GSM operators, that there was indeed substitution of operator in the change of Telecel into Moov and of Areeba into MTN and not a simple commercial renaming like Telecel SA and Spacetel SA as they have been claiming ". This report is, according to the authority, a true evidence of violation of the texts in force and the refusal of the two operators to conform to the provisions of the new schedule of conditions forced the regulator to take a decision which is not without consequences Even if the suspension of Areeba and Moov are in accordance with the desires of the law to reform the sector, there is no denying that the suspension prevents nearly a million of Benin consumers from communicating with each other using their mobile phones. But the consumers "opinion converges: «the authority of the State should not be ridiculed; the operators must respect the texts in force. We are ready to sacrifice our SIM card to restore the decision of the government". This determination of the consumers to support the government does not make them lose sight of the real consequences of the suspension such as the thousands of direct and indirect employment opportunities which Moov and Areeba generate. And also that the low technical capacity of the two remaining networks, Libercom, which is the mobile branch of Benin Telecoms SA and Bell Bénin, a privately owned operator is not fully equipped to give coverage to the whole country. In a press briefing on Tuesday, July 16, the Benin president, H.E Dr. Boni YAYI condemns the fact that Areeba has sold to MTN the license which it has not bought either. And knowing that MTN has bought the whole Areeba group for 5.6 billion US dollars (3,000 billion CFA), they would not be accepted to operate again if they refuse to sign the new schedule of conditions and pay the minimum of 30 billion CFA to Benin. It should be noted that the transfer of the 9,500,000 subscribers to the two remaining networks has its own problems such as the shortage of SIM cards, and the deficient functioning of the networks. It is also difficult for example to get through to another number on the first call; it takes about three times before getting through. Some consumer associations say they would be obliged to bring Moov and Areeba to court to claim compensation for moral and economic damages the consumers have been undergoing since the suspension of the two GSM networks.

By Gerard Guedegbe, ICT Journalist-Benin