Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Differential Data Pricing and why consumers should block it in Namibia

MTC has introduced Differential Data Pricing without consulting the regulator or consumers.

Recently the telecommunications industry have seen the mushrooming of over the top (OTT) content providers as a threat to their business model. OTT refers to delivery of audio, video, and other media over the Internet without the involvement of a multiple-system operator in the control or distribution of the content - in other words the consumer chooses a data service not provided by the telco service provider.

In South Africa the dominant service providers, (Vodacom and MTN), have instigated a parliamentary debate and are doing their best to introduce hurdles to customers using services such as WhatsApp and Facebook arguing that these services do not pay tax or contribute to the actual infrastructure that customers use.

This debate is however not about services being offered - but rather the threat of losing revenue from voice and SMS.

One of the options being put forward is the use of Differential Data Pricing (DDP) - a process through which telecommunications service providers could or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services offered based on content.

In Namibia, the dominant service provider, MTC, has quietly introduced DDP without consultation with the regulator (Communications Regulator of Namibia) or consumers. The company simply introduced a separation of which data services (and how much of them) can be used within a promotional package and now consumer see a message differentiating how much voice, SMS, WhatsApp and Facebook data they may use.

Consumers must react to this back-door introduction of Differential Data Pricing and insist CRAN as the regulator brings MTC to book.

Why is it important to have an open field of how a consumer uses their data?

  1. Users should be guaranteed equal access to any website they want to visit regardless of how they connect to the Internet. 
  2. Letting Telcos define the nature of access means they and not the user, shape the users Internet experience.
  3. "We can’t  create a two-tier Internet – one for the haves, and one for the have-nots. We must connect everyone to the full potential of the open Web."
  4. In India it was found that, "Had differential pricing been officially legalized, it would have adversely affected startups and content-based smaller companies, who most likely could never manage to pay higher prices to partner with service providers to make their service available for free. This would have paved the way for tech-giants like Facebook to capture the entire market."



Allow me to first state that it is becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to be involved in the process of tariff determinations and other matters before CRAN as there are no consumer organization receiving funds to assist them in doing work on behalf of the consumer. Most consumer activists are doing the work on behalf of consumers only when the time allows and thus we will find that big corporations will increasingly get away with unfair business practices. Perhaps CRAN should consider the idea of using funds from the Universal Service Fund to assist consumer organisations with their activities.

The Namibia Consumer Protection Group (NCPG) requests CRAN to have public hearings on MTC’S new NETMAN products (NETMAN Turboboost) tariffs as published on 24 December 2015 in the Government Gazette NO. 5908 General Notice 568.

The proposed tariffs are discriminatory in nature and unfairly penalise the lowest income earners and will make the data usage eight times more expensive than for the data charged to the high-end market user.


  • MTC proposes to charge the lowest cost package at N$ 179 per month for 2 gigabyte of data. That means a cost of N$ 89.50 per gigabyte. 
  • The top-end "Unlimited" package costs N$ 999 per month for 90 gigabyte of data. That means a cost of N$ 11.10 per gigabyte.
Data costs are sold at a profit, so assuming the N$ 11.10 per gigabyte is already making a profit, why is MTC making an additional N$ 78.40 per gigabyte off the lowest income earners?

See graph for comparisons of all packages.

The NCPG would like to see this issue being discussed with as many consumers as possible and would request CRAN to allow public debate on the matter.

I thank CRAN for allowing us this extension on comments in this matter.

Kind regards

Milton Louw
Executive Director

Friday, 4 December 2015

Simplifying elective methods will increase voter participation

Namibia held its Regional Council and Local Authority elections on 27th November 2015. Probably the biggest lesson for the country is that so few voters (less than 40%) bothered to participate even after it was declared a public holiday.

In the Regional Council election, each voter is expected to vote for an individual and it is easy for comparisons to be made between the individuals and the parties they represent. HOWEVER, our Local Authority elections are based on the party list system  - and very few voters even know who the candidates are they are voting for when they press the button next to their party of choice.
Looking at the results from the Local Authority election, I am reminded of a quote from Henry George in 1833:

"Much, too, may be done to restrict the abuse of party machinery, and make the ballot the true expression of the will of the voter, by simplifying our elective methods. And a principle should always be kept in mind which we have largely ignored, that the people cannot manage details, nor intelligently choose more than a few officials. To call upon the average citizen to vote at each election for a long string of candidates, as to the majority of whom he can know nothing unless he makes a business of politics, is to relegate choice to nominating conventions and political rings. And to divide power is often to destroy responsibility, and to provoke, not to prevent, usurpation."

(usurpation = taking someone's power or property by force)

Namibia must start looking at a way of simplifying our elective methods. A good way to start is looking at a system of direct voting for representatives at the local authority. In this way the voter has an opportunity to know the individual that wishes to represent their area - and more importantly know where to take their complaints concerning the specific geographic area within the local authority.

Under the new electoral law, the mechanism of referendums can be used to get a "Yes" or "No" from voters on a specific issue. The ECN should use this mechanism to ask: "Should local authority elections be held on a ward system?"

Please note:
Referendums is logically preferable as a plural form meaning ballots on one issue (as a Latin gerund, referendum has no plural). The Latin plural gerundive referenda, meaning things to be referred, necessarily connotes a plurality of issues. 

Back to being a social commentator

For the past three years, I have been working at the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) as the IT Project Coordinator responsible for establishing the electronic voters register. As an employee of ECN, I felt that I should restrict myself from writing about politics or electoral matters as  matter of principle. Thus my regular readers will note that I have largely written only about consumer issues and left out my usual weekly political commentary from my blog.  I resigned from ECN on 30 September and will now continue with this blog (which started in January 2009) as part of my contribution to a better Namibia.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Protecting your family on Social Media

(First appeared in New Era 16 September 2015)

A few years ago my eldest daughter called me during a training session I held in the capital. At the time I was freelancing and training officials at a large OMA about how to use Facebook. When my daughter heard this she had to express incredulity and stated, “But how do you teach something which is so easy to use?” She was of course mistaking using the social media platform with managing the platform and the interaction you can have with the system when understanding how your followers or “likers” react to posts and photographs.
I of course had to protect my business model and had to explain to her the difference. In essence, posting comment, publishing pictures or commenting on posts is all easy to do and allows your friends to see where you are, when and with whom. However, you want to know more about the people seeing your posts entails a lot more work in the actual engine room of the programme. Thus I was training managers of information pages rather than the social usage of Facebook. She still thought it funny that people would pay me N$ 750.00 an hour to learn something she felt they could teach themselves.
Today most of us learn how to use social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Youtube and find that we can “instinctively” find the information we need while sharing our innermost thoughts and ideas with ease.
This led me to think about how to protect me and my family from the evils of social media – and more specifically about the careless mistakes we all make when posting about our personal lives.
First things First: Never give out information that you would not want a stranger knowing. Typically you would not tell every stranger walking in your neighbourhood that you will be leaving your house unguarded for the next two weeks while you go on holiday. Even though we would not do this to strangers in real life, many of us are sharing on social media how our holiday is, how long before we go home, etc. without considering that we previously shared pictures of our home, or even our jewellery or precious objects on that same site. Many criminals are becoming aware of information you share and are using it to target you specifically.
Your children: Most of us allow our children to access the Internet through smartphones or home computers without much thought to what content they access. In studies carried out in 25 European countries it was found that around one-third of parents worry about what their children access as content online and this is more than the number of parents concerned about their children’s use of alcohol or drugs.
The following tips are useful when it comes to your Internet usage:
Always keep in mind that the Internet is permanent. Even though you might delete a picture or post does not mean somebody has not already saved a copy. Taking it off does not quite mean the same as deleting it forever.
Be very careful when accepting a new friend request. If someone in real life asked to be your friend out of the blue. Only accept friends you actually know in real life – it is too easy to make a fake profile and pretend to be someone you are not.
Be very cautious when clicking on a link. The most common trick these days is to tell you that a certain friend likes a video or specific page and tries to get you to also look. Remember that anything too good to be true often is.
Get to know your privacy setting an how to change them. Check regularly which information you want to share with whom. Especially if you play games in a social media site, make sure they cannot post to your wall. Your boss will not find it funny that you have just “cracked level 31” after playing Game B for the past two hours.
Lastly, turn off your GPS function on your smartphone. When you post a picture taken with this feature on, anyone can access the data part of the photo and will know your exact location and time at which a photo was taken.
Always use as much caution about the information you and your family share in real life as you do on the Internet.