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Editorial: Telecom firms extorting customers

Among a myriad of other miseries, Afghans are also suffering from issues that stem from telecommunications and internet services. In this era of technological developments, telecoms and            internet services are indispensable resources across the globe. However, the telecom networks and the government here are extorting Afghans to the fullest, while the consumers have no other choice but to accept the under-bar and absurdly overpriced services they provide. Despite the presence of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of Afghanistan (ATRA), the telecom and internet users have been regularly complaining of a high internet price across the country. This is while civil society organizations, which advocate customers’ rights, criticized the high cost of the internet in Afghanistan. Earlier this month, they warned of staging sit-in protests if a 50 percent reduction was not announced in the internet prices. Last year, a campaign named ‘#WhereIsATRA’ was launched by some youths fed up with the low telecom service quality and high internet prices amid the government and ATRA’s dereliction to address these issues. Despite the high internet data price in Afghanistan, the quality of the service is also way lower compared to the neighboring countries. The data speed in Pakistan and India, the two close neighbors of Afghanistan, are much higher and the prices are lower than Afghanistan. Earlier this month, Acting Telecommunications and Information Technology Minister Mohammad Fahim Hashami admitted that one GB internet cost for telecoms business was 9 Afs while they sold the same to people for 180 Afs, charging an 18 times higher price. In spite of the fact that internet rates have reduced in the world, the Afghan private companies, as well as the public ones, are looting Afghanistan as the ATRA’s oversight and monitoring function is at a very low ebb. One GB data costs around 20 Afs on average in India, 140 Afs in Pakistan, and 100 Afs in Iran. But the issue that adds to the depth of the catastrophe – in addition to the failure to regulate private companies and moderate the prices – is the firms’ use of other methods to extort money from consumers. These telecom companies activate unsolicited value-added services without the permission of customers while the services provided under the name of 3G or 4G are not real. Although the ATRA, the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology (MoCIT) and the government pledge to bring down internet prices, they don’t honor them in practice. Following an increase in protests and complaints about internet and phone rates, President Ashraf Ghani in January asked telecommunications companies to reduce internet price; otherwise, their licenses would be revoked. A few days back, the MoCIT announced a 30 percent reduction in internet prices of Afghan Telecom and Salam Network – the duo state-run telecom authorities – but to no avail, as we haven’t witnessed the cut in rates as of yet. At this juncture, ATRA should seriously focus on protecting the rights of customers, remain apolitical and independent, and bring the companies to account for their unethical actions. It should bring down the price of the internet and translate its claims into action and bring an end to the collusion of private companies. The ATRA should cease reneging on its pledges and make the public and private companies reduce their prices as per international standards and be accountable to Afghans.

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