The Tanzanian government is developing a framework to enable it charge WhatsApp calls as the country grapples with declining revenue from international calls.
The emergence of messaging apps like WhatsApp have given users alternatives for making international calls free of charge or at a very low rates. As a result, the telecommunications industry has lost revenue from international tariff charges..
A report from the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) shows that the number of international calls over mobile networks have plummeted drastically in the last ten years.
The TCRA comparison shows a record 107.2 million international calls were made in Q4, 2012. The number dropped to almost half in Q4 2016 after the regulator recorded 65 million international calls, and a paltry 27.27 million in the last quarter of 2020.
Information and Communication Technology minister Faustine Ndugulile said the country was exploring ways of preventing the loss of revenue occasioned by the massive popularity of WhatsApp in the country.
“So, for now, data shows that international calls traffic has gone down as people have migrated to WhatsApp calls. This has negatively affected revenues from international calls. We need to have a regulatory mechanism and this is actually what TCRA is doing at present,” he said.
Ndugulile said the TCRA was analyzing the Telecommunication Traffic Monitoring System (TTMS) with an aim of determining the best way to prevent losses.
The TTMS was commissioned in 2019 at a price of Sh1.1 million (Tsh24.6 million) with an aim of tracing fraudulent traffic, mobile money transactions and data that would otherwise be inaccessible. The system also helps TCRA determine the quality of calls and services provided by Mobile network operators in the country.
TCRA sectoral issues director, Mr. Emanuel Manase, said that it would be difficult to bar WhatsApp calls, but their approach would be more focused on improving regulatory mechanisms and coming up with new data tariffs.
The first phase would be to determine how many international calls are made through Whatsapp and Messenger.
“After doing that, the second step will be to conduct an analysis of data usage whereby we will find out whether or not we should adjust the charges because it will be through that way that the government will collect its revenue despite a drop in international traffic,” he said.
He said the government would then provide a way forward. On the same breath, Manase said the ministry was looking at developing a system that would automatically filter deragotary, fabricated and ridiculing messages.
“This should be in such a way that the system automatically blocks any message that is derogatory or fabricated before it goes viral,” he said.