Sierra Leone: 3 ISPs fail to meet ACE consortium payments to SALCAB

Internet

The new year could not have started worse for three of Sierra Leone’s nine internet service providers (ISPs) who have had their services deactivated. They are among the leading ISPs in the country.

SALCAB, the government agency in charge of the country’s fibre optic programme, says it has deactivated AFCOM, Limeline and AFRICELL for “noncompliance” by their failure to meet the deadline of 16 December 2013 to fill out Order Forms and pay their fees.

The Managing Director of SALCAB, Mohamed Sheriff told Politico that the fourth company that had the plug pulled on it, IPTEL, rushed and regularised and was reactivated.

Sheriff said the companies had been using the services for free since the introduction of SALCAB a few months ago and were required to pay US$ 10,000 monthly which they failed to pay.

He said his agency paid US$ 500,000 on behalf of their clients to the ACE consortium and that they still owed the consortium US$ 184,000.

Sheriff said they had substantially reduced the fee for internet service providers to US$ 200 per meg (Mbps), which he said amounted to a substantial reduction compared to over US$ 2,000 which they paid for using satellite.

He said this price per Mbps was the lowest in the West Africa sub region citing Liberia which he said charged US$ 500, Guinea and Gambia US$ 300 – 400 and Ghana US$ 230. He said this was “the best deal” for Sierra Leone’s ISPs which gave them “an enabling environment to be more profitable”. He assured that if more clients came forth SALCAB would correspondingly reduce this fee.

Reacting to the deactivation, the Managing Director of Limeline denied any wrongdoing and threatened to take international court action.

Speaking to Politico Foday Sankoh accused the government of reneging on its earlier promise contained in an agreement signed by the ISPs with the then Minister of Communication, Ibrahim Ben Kargbo in 2012, something he said the current minister had scrapped saying it was invalid and introduced new terms and conditions.

“They cannot breach an agreement and expect to get away with it”, he said, sounding angry. Sankoh said the current minister wanted to force them to pay “exorbitant fees” and described the move as being “on the wrong footing”.

He accused government of changing midstream and threatened seeking international arbitration.

Sankoh said they would not fill out any new form or respect the new terms and conditions insisting the previous agreement must be respected.

He accused the government of not putting the priority of the people ahead of their own personal interests.

He said government had kicked them out of the Board which “smacks of unfairness and bad business”.

The Lime line MD also accused the ministry of communication of encouraging unhealthy competition by favouring certain ISPs. He singled our SIERRA WIFI, accusing them of not being licensed but operating in the country and being protected by certain government officials especially in the ministry of communication.

Efforts to gauge the reaction of the minister of communication, Alpha Kanu failed. He would not pick our call or respond to our text message.

Sierra Leone has an internet penetration of around two percent and is generally frustratingly slow. The landing of the fibre optic submarine cable in Freetown by the World Bank some two years ago raised hopes that the situation would substantially improve. But complaints abound of high cost of the service and the difficult infrastructure needed to achieve this.