Is Non-compliance becoming a norm for MTN in Africa

Africa’s largest mobile operator, MTN has been slammed with R5 million ($340,597) by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) for noncompliance. This comes four years after MTN Nigeria was slammed the fine of $5.2 billion by the Nigerian government over non-compliance. Although the fine meted on MTN by Icasa is nothing compared to that of Nigeria.

According to Icasa, MTN was fined for failing to give the seven days notice period provided by law to the authorities before hiking the price of its one gigabyte monthly WhatsApp bundles.

Paseka Maleka, ICASA’s spokesperson said that “ICASA would like to confirm that indeed a fine of R5million was issued to MTN for contravening Regulation 9 of the Standard Terms and Conditions, of which ZAR 2 million is suspended for three years as from the date of issue of the council’s order in this matter.” The telco will pay the remaining fine of ZAR 3 million to ICASA within 90 working days after the issue of this order. 

MTN had in April last year, launched social media bundles and a monthly WhatsApp bundle of 1GB for R10. The new package attracted many WhatsApp users and MTN reported WhatsApp usage in its network had increased by 300 per cent in just two months with millions of South Africans buying these low-cost bundles. Three months after introducing the social media bundle package,  the telco hiked the price for many users by 200 per cent and blamed it on huge spike in traffic which meant that they had to urgently invest in its 3G infrastructure to accommodate the traffic driven by demand for WhatsApp.

MTN has headed for the court following this fine saying that it believes its penalty from Icasa in the 1GB monthly WhatsApp bundle case should be proportional to its transgression. MTN’s spokesperson, Jacqui O’Sullivan in a statement detailed multiple instances where the network notified Icasa of its intentions to increase the price and that they also wrote to Icasa before the price hike but there was no response and it proceeded with the adjustment.

“The volume of traffic on the WhatsApp bundle was unprecedented, and thus it presented novel challenges to MTN.”

“We were very aware of the required ICASA timing, which is why we applied for leniency, but this was a tough situation, and, at the time, we did what we felt necessary to protect the connectivity of millions of South Africans,” MTN South Africa Executive for Corporate Affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan said.

In 2015, MTN was fined $5.2 billion which was later reduced to $1.7 billion by the Nigerian government through the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)  for not meeting the deadline set up by the Mobile network operators (MNOs) for disconnecting the Subscribers Identification Modules (SIM) with improper registration. The compliance audit carried out by the NCC on MTN network revealed unregistered 5.2 million customers lines un-deactivated. This led to the NCC fining MTN with the sum of $1000 for each unregistered SIM, which amounted to $5.2bn.

Could this be that MTN is not compliant in the countries where they operate?