ICT prohibitively expensive in Malawi â Freedom House report

Lesedi Mapheto, owner of Lesedi 7 Group, says speed, quality and the ability to print on a wide range of media were the key features that encouraged him to invest in the Versant 3100 press.

Unreliable access to power, hefty charges and tax continue to impact on internet growth rates in the country.

ICT remains "prohibitively expensive" for the majority of Malawians, resulting in low internet access rates across the country, according to a Freedom On the Net (FOTN) report released by US-based Freedom House in October 2018.

The report is a comprehensive study of internet freedom in 65 countries around the globe, covering 87% of the world's internet users.

Despite initiatives like a new National Optic Fibre Backbone Project, completed by ICT multinational firm Huawei in April 2018 and promising to deliver faster internet services, unreliable electricity and the high cost of generator power continue to impact ICT.

In the period under review, electricity blackouts frequently lasted up to 72 hours across the country and adversely affected the delivery of internet and mobile services.

The Report found out that less than 10% of the country has access to electricity, meaning Malawi has one of the lowest electrification rates globally, according to the World Bank.

It added that the electricity grid is concentrated in urban centres, but only 25% of urban households have access, compared to a mere 1% of rural households.

The Report established that the poor rate of internet growth and mobile phone access are largely a result of the high service costs for consumers, which include a 17.5% value-added tax (VAT) on mobile phones and services, a 16.5% VAT on internet services, and an additional 10% excise duty on mobile phone text messages and internet data transfers introduced in May 2015.

As of March 2018, Airtel and TNM charge US$22 per month for a 10GB data bundle, the report states.

The high costs it says, hit the country's poor the hardest, shutting them out of an increasingly digital world of important services like mobile banking and money services.

Malawi's Minister of Information, Communication and Technology Nicholas Dausi was not immediately available to comment on the Report.