The Papua New Guinea Government owned telco, Bmobile, provided the biggest embarrassment for Papua New Guinea’s APEC aspirations for greater digital access and an inclusive economy.
It did this by doubling and tripling data rates for its new merger acquired Telikom 4G network. Since taking over APEC responsibilities, Papua New Guinea, has been echoing the call by APEC member states for a “shared future” of greater digital access. For the Papua New Guinean, it meant cheaper mobile data costs enabling the development of e-commerce, better disaster reporting and poverty alleviation through the digital economy.
In terms of affordability PNG ranked 163rd out of 169 countries in 2013 according to the International Telecommunications Union, the National Research Institute (NRI) said in a discussion paper titled ‘Why are internet prices high in PNG?’
It is against this backdrop of high prices that Telikom's previously low data packages were important and essential to realise PNG's APEC aspirations.
In pre-merger 2017, when Telikom and Digicel expanded their 4G networks, SMEs felt encouraged to embrace the digital future. In that short period, empirical evidence showed a marked increase in high definition professional and user generated video content. There was also an evidential shift in favorable attitudes towards the perceived older player in the industry – Telikom.
Where was Bmobile? According to PNG Maths Blogspot which also comments on communications related topics, Bmobile worked on reviving its struggling state.
“The partnership with Vodafone gave it the much needed oxygen. Today it needs another major CPR.”
That CPR came in the form of the merger which has given it an additional 4G network as well as user rights to Telikom’s infrastructure. While the government has explained the proposed restructure in terms of a wholesale-retail concept, the move has also stripped away an important growing revenue source for the Telikom.
Then in one blow, Bmobile destroyed the credibility of Telikom 4G while at the same time levelling the competition ‘playing field’ upwards. The move has also put previously affordable data bundles out of reach for many Papua New Guineans.
The flow on effect? Higher costs and a loss of credibility for the PNG Government in the face of APEC countries talking wider access and lower costs. So far, there has been no official statement from both companies as to why the sudden price hike happened without much warning.
Since 2015, the government focus has been on reducing internet costs and increasing access. In April of the same year and on the eve of the Pacific Games in Port Moresby, Telikom announced a 50 percent reduction in retail internet costs.
By 2016, analysts and IT professionals were sure data costs would drop further as Telikom looked towards a broader rollout of its new 4G network the following year. All this was happening on the back of ongoing government efforts to increase bandwidth by investing in new infrastructure from Australia and Indonesia.
In the Weeks leading up to the APEC leaders summit, it will be difficult for PNG government officials to ignore the glaring elephant in the room - the increased data rates – as the country tries to reaffirm its commitment to greater digital access and cheaper internet.
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