Mobile users in Syria boycott services
Frustrated at high tariffs, mobile users in Syria staged a one day boycott of mobile phone services.
Mobile phone users in Syria yesterday staged a boycott of mobile services as a protest against the high tariffs charged by the country’s two operators, Syriatel and MTN Syria.
The protest gained traction after a frustrated mobile user encouraged others to stop using their phones for one day. The protest was adopted by more people, with the message spreading via blogs and social networking sites such as Facebook.
The campaigners sent out a message that read: “Boycott Mobile Phones on 1 June 2009. Contribute with us in the national campaign to lobby the telecom companies to lower the bills to become similar to neighboring countries.”
While the boycott was unlikely to have made a significant dent in the profits of Syriatel and MTN Syria, the attention the incident provoked could encourage the government to take a fresh look at its telecommunications policy, which is widely viewed as thwarting competition and restricting services.
Josep Maria Moya, partner, Delta Partners, said that mobile users in Syria were probably frustrated not just with the relatively high cost of calls and per minute billing, but also the restrictive validity of top-up cards. Until recently, customers buying the most popular card, worth SYP150 ($3.25), had only seven days to use the credit before facing disconnection.
This system forced mobile users to spend a minimum of SYP600 per month, making continuous mobile services too expensive for many Syrians. While the operators recently extended the validity period of the cheapest card to 15 days, the restriction was likely to remain a source of annoyance to mobile users.
Moya added that the regulatory system in Syria also contributes to restrictive services for end users. With MTN and Syriatel both operating under BOT (build operate and transfer) contracts, there is little incentive for the two companies to invest in their networks or build their customer bases when they could be forced to hand over all of their operations, including assets, to the government once their licences run out.
While the boycott may have served to remind Syria’s operators of the discontent among customers, most mobile users think the situation is unlikely to change any time soon. One Syrian expatriate residing in the UAE said the boycott would have little impact on mobile services.
“I don't think the boycott will have any result because there are only two mobile operators in Syria having exactly the same charge for calls and messages. Even the services they introduce are exactly the same, so they are not afraid of the boycott while there is no competitor in the Syrian market,” he said.
“People have no choice, as the two operators have a high level of coordination with each other so they can decide the fee they would like to charge.”
Syria has among the highest mobile tariffs in the region, and also one of the lowest mobile penetration rates, with about 41% Sim card penetration at the end of 2008.
MTN Syria and Syriatel were unavailable for comment.