Vodafone Ghana caused a storm of criticism after bumping customers from unlimited fixed-line broadband contracts on to a new, limited, metered service, effectively increasing customer bills by up to 300% or 135GHc a month each.
As of 15th December 2012, Vodafone Ghana stopped providing its customers unlimited fixed-line broadband services. Without proper due notification or warning, the service was terminated, and all accounts switched to a new, capped, metered service. The normal monthly sixty-five Ghana cedis price tag for unlimited broadband will now buy you just 15 gigabytes of data transfer valid for up to 30 days or until used.
According to Vodafone’s latest in-store brochure, 25 gigabytes now costs 100GHc per month and a maximum 60 gigabytes package will set you back 200GHc each month. There was no mention of ‘unlimited’ broadband being made available at the time of writing*.
Critics have blasted the move “cynical,” criticizing Vodafone Ghana, who claim to champion enterprise and personal development with their “power to you” slogan, for hitting hardest the very groups they claim to support; students/young people; small to medium sized enterprises; and an aging population of residential customers with landline connections and families who have flown the nest.
“From 65GHc to 200GHc a month for less than I was getting these past two years is verging on the criminal,” said Charles Sagoe, a freelance photographer on Facebook who uses Vodafone’s fixed-line broadband service to upload/download images and sell his photography online via a host of social networking sites.
“How do you justify a 300% price rise?” asked another Facebook poster. “That’s like instantly taking unlimited broadband out of the reach of ordinary people like me and your average Ghanaian businessperson,” he went on. “That’s the usual story here in Africa. And they say, ‘we’re open for business.’ Open for exploitation more likely.”
And they may have a point. Only in Africa, where there are no consumer protection agencies, could Vodafone even consider its latest money-grabbing price hike. UK legislations make it difficult for the telecom giant to rip up contracts with customers there and issue new ones overnight for three times the price and with no discernible benefits. Yet, what could be simpler in Ghana, when you’re a cash-strapped, privately owned, government-supported telecom with a landline monopoly?
One year on from a pledge to drop prices to 45GHc per month for unlimited fixed-line broadband, rising to 65GHc again some months later, Vodafone seems to have decided that its need for cash overrides the need for customer care, value for money or straightforward fairness. The increase, by far the highest of four price changes in twelve months, was branded “a disgrace” by an organized group of incensed Ghanaians who have launched an online petition against the company’s latest pricing fiasco, while unhappy customers flocked to Vodafone shops to attack the decision. Many said they could no longer afford the service and would be quitting the company, and at least one Facebook campaign has been set up.
Inside the Vodafone shop at Circle, it was New Year’s Eve on a hot afternoon in Accra. The place was packed and a poorly organized queuing system wasn’t making the customers any less irritable. Their broadband service had been abruptly disconnected over the Christmas holidays most of them. In the absence of any telephone assistance, they’d been asked to attend the nearest Vodafone shop at their earliest convenience.
Like me, they had already paid this month’s service charges in advance, but they were about to discover that their accounts had been switched to a metered service. And, instead of being in credit, they actually owed Vodafone money. They had already used up all of their allocated monthly data transfer limit, apparently, and must now pay additional tariffs to get back online. That was why we were mainly all there, to cough up extra dosh, as they say in England.
“Why weren’t we told?” an elderly man beside me kept saying. “All this for four cedis? Four cedis! What is this country coming to? Why weren’t we told anything about this?” Beside him, a man in his mid-forties was scolding a steely-faced cashier along similar lines, “I don’t have two or three hours to waste coming to this store every other day,” he was saying. His echoed my sentiments exactly.
We had been kicked all of us on to the lowest rung of a three-tiered metered payment scheme. Yet with no automatic payment facility should charges become due mid-stream as could be expected with this setup. No handy direct debit, bank standing order or money transfer, no credit card payment over the phone or online at the company’s friendly ecommerce website. It was always cash over the counter for the likes of Vodafone Ghana, which poses no end of inconvenience for your average working African, knowing the traffic issues alone trying to get things done day to day. Vodafone Ghana wanted more of our money but it didn’t want to do much to earn it. In fact, the more we are inconvenienced is the more our money it will take.
Up front, a young student type was begging to know what he gets now for 65 Ghana. He can’t believe how high the price has shot up. “We share with friends,” he was trying to explain. “How can we afford this?” It was a question asked more of the listening strangers than to the Vodafone cashier, but she answered him anyway: “Manage,” she said, very matter-of-fact.
And that’s what most Ghanaians will do. Manage. We will manage without. Manage to think of ourselves as less deserving than others. Manage because Ghanaians have grown used to the best of everything in their country being priced beyond their reach. That’s why the foreigners come here. So they can look down on us from their 4×4 in the passenger seat on their mobile phone.
My own 15 gigabyte broadband allocation expired after four days. This article is brought to you by a USB modem from Airtel.