By Elvis Milambo

Zambia’s telecommunications Policy and Regulatory reform has been slower than that of other countries such as South Africa, Tanzania and Botswana in the region. As a consequence of slow telecoms policy and regulatory reform there is limited access to information and communication technology to underserviced areas and no access to telecommunications in unserviced rural and remote poorer communities of the country. Although Zambia has at least 3 competing mobile phone operators (MTN, Airtel and Cell Z), some regulatory policies or lack of it still hamper fair competition thereby favouring Airtel, the country’s oldest or earliest mobile phone operator. Mobile Number Portability (MNP) regulation could be a way of promoting fair competition in Zambia’s telecoms markets. The majority of users may want to switch mobile phone operators if they are allowed to retain their number (ITU, 2008).But since Zambia’s telecoms policy and regulation does not encourage mobile number portability, Zambian users are left without any other option but to continue subscribing to an operator who does not offer mobile phone services in their area. This does not promote competition. For example there are many places in Western province where MTN’s mobile phone coverage is wider and better than Airtel’s coverage but Airtel customers who want to change their operator and port their number to MTN can not do so because there is no such provision by the country’s telecoms regulator. As a consequence, new entrants in the telecoms market can not compete fairly with incumbent and older mobile phone operators. Mobile Termination Rates are unnecessarily high, making calls between different operators unaffordable to many low income subscribers in Zambia.

Zambians can not port their mobile numbers. Photo – Elvis Milambo
The Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) could regulate termination rates by lowering them so that many subscribers can make calls across different networks for purposes of encouraging competition.
Subscribers have to put up with poor quality of service including lack of service in instances where electricity supply by ZESCO has been interrupted at the operator’s base stations. Obviously, some operators may want to save or reduce expenses by not providing mobile phone services until electricity supply is restored by ZESCO instead of switching on a generator that will consume plenty of fuel that is quite expensive in a rural area like Kaoma, Monze or remote Gwembe Valley.
Mobile Number Portability can encourage quality of service among operators because those who are offering higher call rates or poor services will lose customers to a much better and efficient operator.

The Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority(ZICTA) has an urgent task more than ever before to regulate telecoms markets and ensure growth and development of ICTs in Zambia by taking the consumer and Operators’ interest into consideration. This will ensure profitable and efficient telecoms markets in the country.

About the Author
Elvis Milambo is studying for his Master’s degree in Information & Communication Technology (ICT) Policy and Regulation at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa. He’s currently working as Production Manager at Oblate Radio Liseli, a Catholic Broadcasting station in Western Zambia. He has worked with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on their School report project in Johannesburg, South Africa. Elvis was Production team leader for the interactive Radio Learning project that OLSET implemented in Bangladesh and Across South Africa’s nine Provinces.