MTN Cameroon refutes allegation of imminent internet shutdown

MTN Cameroon has denied it plans to cut off the internet across the country between October 7 and October 9, 2018, as widely circulated on social media.

The leading mobile network service provider was reacting to allegations that it will suspend internet services when Cameroonian voters go to the polls on October 7, to elect a new president. Nine contenders are lined up in the race, including incumbent Paul Biya.

An SMS purported to be from MTN Cameroon has made rounds lately, indicating that internet will be disrupted on October 7-9 due to maintenance work on the optic fibre cable.

Cameroon activist Boris Bertolt said in a statement on August 8, that President Paul Biya had hatched plans of an internet blackout on election day. "By putting pressure on operators to cut the internet, Paul Biya's regime seeks to deceive human rights organisations because the internet cut is a violation of our rights," Bertolt posted on his Facebook page.

In what MTN considered as "fake news," the company called on the public to be more vigilant in the face of the propagation of false information.

"MTN Cameroon informs the public that it has not sent any message of this nature to its clients. The image currently circulating on social media is a mounted visual whose content is grossly inadequate. In fact, MTN does not manage the optical fibre in Cameroon, and can therefore not plan work to replace it," MTN Cameroon's statement read in part.

The management of MTN Cameroon has reassured its subscribers of uninterrupted internet services.

Cameroon is not new to internet shutdowns. Between January 2017 and March 2018, the government partially and fully disrupted the internet in its restive English-speaking regions. Cameroon is on record of having the longest internet shutdown on the continent, with a single blackout lasting 94 days.

In the past, government has pressured telecoms operators to cut connections for national security reasons. Such instructions have been respected by the different operators, including MTN Cameroon which is the biggest telecoms player in the country.

The company has a market share of 51.28%, according to GSMA Intelligence, in a market with three other operators.

Rights groups, including the UN Human Rights Office, Access Now and Internet Without Borders have condemned the shutdowns in Cameroon. They have repeatedly called on the government to respect citizens' right to freedom of expression and to avoid tampering with the internet switch.