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Dipak writes CCPC, ZICTA over MultiChoice pricing policy

DIPAK Patel has lodged a complaint with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission over MultiChoice Zambia not providing competitive pricing and whether its pre-packaged offers for subscribers are fair and competitive.

Patel has also written to the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority seeking a review of its current policy on Direct to Home subscriptions and determine whether the current pre-packaged channels being offered are fair or uncompetitive and whether policy needs to be changed to allow for an “a la carte” pay per view in Zambia.

In a letter addressed to the CCPC chief executive officer and ZICTA director general, Patel

stated that MultiChoice Zambia provides pre-designed channel packs in such a way that the consumer pays for those channels that they never actually watch.

“MultiChoice Zambia has an upper hand in deciding the costs that a viewer has to incur through a month, or a year. ZICTA and the Consumer Protection Agency should stop this practice and put in place new rules and regulations for a Direct to Home (DTH) TV providers that will let TV users pick, choose and subscribe to channels users want to watch, and put a price cap on each channel,” he said.

“This is not a unique concept. In India for instance TRAI, the Indian telecommunications regulator put in place such regulations for all their DTH providers in December 2018, as has Canada. The new regulations aim to offer a fairer scenario for consumers of DTH and cable connections. The regulations mandate that consumers will only pay for the channels that they wish to watch and not end up paying for channels they do not watch, as is the case with MultiChoice Zambia.”

The former Lusaka Central member of parliament said the most significant change TRAI made was the “a la carte” rule.

“This is where all their DTH providers were asked to unbundle everything and let the TV users create their own channel packs, whether the pack has two channels or 50. Each channel has a price,” Patel, a former commerce minister, wrote.

“In South Africa, ICASA the telecommunications regulator, has started a process that began in 2017, issued its preliminary findings for further comments on whether South Africa should or should not introduce an “a la carte” option, as has been done in India and Canada.”

Patel said MultiChoice was reported to have said it would not be forced to let subscribers choose their own channels according to ICASA’s draft findings.

“MultiChoice has either a monopoly or market dominance in Zambia and rest of Africa, and they operate in a predatory mode. Recently, the MultiChoice Zambia head of corporate affairs Mr Mwika Malindima said that ‘MultiChoice does not operate a ‘pay per view’ arrangement and so our services are like the purchase of a newspaper where readers will pay in full, whether you read one story, you will have to pay it in full. And so if we introduce this system, it would end up costing our customers more than what they are paying at the moment.’ As a layperson, I understand Mr Malindima’s comment as anti-competitive with monopolistic undertones,” he stated.

“According to reputable financial and business news website (www.businessinsider.co.za) which published a DSTV/MultiChoice Africa wide price comparisons is revealing. MultiChoice operates in 40 Africa countries. The comparisons were made using the listed prices of DSTV in each country, as per DStv websites and converting the local currency price into South African rand.”

Citing a chart showing prices subscribers pay in different African countries, Patel noted that DStv’s Premium service in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the most expensive at US$105 per month (or roughly R1,600).

“On average DSTV Premium services in Africa costs Rands 1,052.02 a month, compared to Rands 809 in South Africa. DStv has 7.4 million subscribers in South Africa, compared to 7.7 million in the rest of Africa,” said Patel. “I look forward to your individual responses.”

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