Minister of Information & Digitalisation, Moses Kunkuyu — together with his counterpart of Finance, Sosten Gwengwe — held a virtual meeting on Wednesday, August 9 with MultiChoice Africa Holdings as government intervenes on the impasse that Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA); MultiChoice Malawi and MultiChoice Africa Holdings have over DStv services.
Last week, Kunkuyu announced that Government would intervene soon after MultiChoice Africa Holdings announced the withdraw of the DStv services following MACRA’s firm resolve stopping the service provider from effecting tariff adjustment without the approval of the communications regulator.
MultiChoice Africa Holdings’ group executive-corporate affairs & stakeholder relations, Keabetswe Modimoeng has now written the two Ministers in reference to the virtual meeting they had on Wednesday as to what the continent’s service provider regards as “hostile regulatory operating environment that it finds itself in and the very unfortunate decision that MAH found itself having to make to withdraw the provision of its DStv services in Malawi”.
The detailed letter highlights circumstances that has led to the impasse, saying: “MAH took its decision on the DStv service upon careful consideration of the legal risks posed to the local subscription management service (SMS) provider, MultiChoice Malawi — as well as the overall regulatory hostility and uncertainty that impacts the investment environment and growth of the business in Malawi.
After detailing all its major areas of concern for the two Ministers’ “kind consideration”, MAH proposed a way forward and conclusion, saying they value their subscribers in Malawi, and would prefer to resolve the current issues and “find a lasting solution to the current untenable environment”.
“We are of the view that this could be achieved through the following:
* The genesis of all the issues we have in Malawi lies in the continued conflation of the roles played by MCM and MAH. We believe that it would be beneficial for the Authority to, in line with the provisions of the Communications Act, 2016, resume appropriately regulating MCM as an SMS provider, instead of seeking to impose broadcasting obligations on an entity that does not provide DStv;
* To the extent that the Authority has concerns regarding the appropriate licensing of international broadcasting services, we propose that this matter be opened for consultation through which the Authority can find a suitable and enforceable solution, which ensures an investor friendly environment in the communications sector.
“This includes, for example, the requirement for foreign services to notify and file their tariffs with the Authority. A notification regime is more suited for support services like MCM that provide customer support services for international audio visual content providers such as MAH;
* Pending finalisation of the review of the regulatory framework, MAH is permitted to proceed to provide services at the tariffs implemented in August 2023 and is required to notify the Authority of further adjustments to tariffs. This could be done through the withdrawal of the injunction against MCM.
Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Committee on Media, Information & Communications has summoned MACRA on Wednesday, August 16 to what it describes as a round table discussion on the same.
The focus of attention on the whole saga is like MACRA is rejecting the tariff adjustment and from the information we have gathered, this is a case where essentially MultiChoice tried to force the regulator to abdicate from its tariff regulation statutory consumer protection mandate as they wanted their tariffs to be imposed unchecked.
Our investigations show that the current matter was not as a result of MACRA rejecting MultiChoice tariff request made on June 3, 2022, but its conduct to proceed to announce and implement tariffs without approval from the Authority.
During the said period of June 3, 2022, MACRA approved GOtv services tariffs as per its licence conditions but before MACRA could analyse that for DStv, MultiChoice Malawi made a public announcement to adjust tariffs before MACRA’s Technical Committee convened.
It should also be noted that MultiChoice is the one that took MACRA to Court in the first place and that it unilaterally decided to withdraw its DStv services after the Court decided against it on August 8, 2023.
And following the voluntary withdrawal, MACRA made an official demand that MultiChoice should commence voluntary revocation of its license and also to settle K19,372,447.20 within 30 days from August 10 that it owes the Authority in unpaid licence fees.
A statement from MACRA Director General, Daud Suleman dated Thursday, August 10 to MultiChoice Malawi’s Regulatory Manager, acknowledged the decision from MultiChoice Africa of the withdrawal of DStv services due to the recent court injunction the regulatory authority was granted — restraining the digital entertainment service provider from implementing any changes or modifications to DStv services tariffs.
MACRA thus asked for:
1. Instructions to commence the voluntary revocation of MultiChoice Malawi license;
2. Indications on the exact date when MultiChoice will cease its broadcasts into Malawi (shutdown date);
3. Measures put in place to ensure MultiChoice’s smooth exit, especially regarding how refunds to consumers would be affected, especially those that would have paid beyond your shutdown date, as well as compensation to consumers for your proprietary DStv equipment that will become obsolete after the shutdown date;
4. To indicate the mechanisms put in place to ensure the appropriate disposal (take-back system) of the equipment with regard to e-waste as the equipment will become obsolete within Malawi;
5. Mechanisms put in place to ensure that DStv signals, from MultiChoice satellite, will not illegally use the Malawi spectrum after the shutdown date. The frequencies in question are 10970MHz 11010MHz, 11050MHz, 11090MHz, 11130MHz, 11170MHz;
6. The Authority shall conduct compliance testing of the above frequencies one day after the committed shutdown date, to ensure complete exit and that they are available for reallocation to any other interested operator;
7. Further, find hereto attached your latest financial statement indicating that you owe the Authority MK19,372,447.20 in unpaid licence fees. Please settle this amount within 30 days from the date herein; and
8. Lastly, MultiChoice to submit its audited statements for 2022 for the calculation of 2022 levies.
Suleman further advised MultiChoice that “once the voluntary revocation is completed, any broadcasting without an applicable license issued by the Authority is an offence under Section 187 of the Communications Act and that the Authority will not hesitate to take appropriate action against you in line with the Act against anyone who conducting illegal broadcasts”.
“The Authority will closely monitor the situation and take appropriate actions within our regulatory framework. The Authority’s goal remains to ensure a fair and transparent communication sector that protects consumer interests.”