16 Mar 2023
In late 2022, Sierra Leone’s NATCOM announced that all telecommunications operators were to increase prices for mobile data. This was expected to lead to mobile data prices rising by more than 150% for mobile users in Sierra Leone causing serious disruption to people’s every day mobile use.
The decision was met by public outrage in Sierra Leone and led to NATCOM putting their decision to increase mobile data prices on hold in October. Despite the decision being put on hold in October, mobile data prices in Sierra Leone were increased in early 2023 and are now among the highest in Africa.
There has always been a consistent trend of expensive mobile data in Africa in comparison to most other regions around the world. This is due to lack of infrastructure and high taxes on the African telecom industry but this recent rise in mobile data prices in Sierra Leone has deepened the burden for mobile users in the country and propelled the country further up the list as one of the most expensive countries in the continent of Africa for mobile data. Everyone in Sierra Leone has been affected. Most people in the country are struggling to stay connected to the internet which makes it difficult to access vital services such as healthcare, education and finance.
Economic conditions have been in worsening in Sierra Leone, due to heightening inflation rates, exchange rates and prices of everyday essential products. There was a fear that mobile network operators (who are some of the highest employers in the country) would go out of business causing more economic turmoil for the population. The aim of the price increases for mobile tariffs was to keep mobile operators in business and keep a significant number of people in Sierra Leone employed.
Business owners and entrepreneurs are finding the cost of staying online difficult and struggle more to consistently communicate with customers, colleagues and business partners. WiFi isn’t as readily available in Sierra Leone as it is in many other countries. So, using mobile hotspot at work for internet access is common, with rising mobile data prices making this more difficult than ever.
Sierra Leone faces many obstacles when it comes to education as fewer than half of the country’s population is literate. Schools also struggle to find and keep qualified teachers and regular student attendance is a further issue across the state. Resources for students are limited and now with rising internet data prices, teachers and students are struggling to access online education resources or gain internet access to do research for assignments or study for exams.
Normal everyday behaviour such as texting, calling, streaming and posting content or just checking social media has had to be pulled back by mobile users in Sierra Leone due to the hike in mobile data prices. Loved ones are struggling to keep in contact and access to the internet and modern ways of communication are more restricted now than ever.