Content developers need to dialogue with telecom firms to stay in business. (Solomon Asaba)

Content developers need to dialogue with telecom firms to stay in business. (Solomon Asaba)

To keep businesses growing, developers have been attracting clients for subscription by sending regular text messages as adverts.

The more the outgoing messages, the more subscribers for a service but that was before telecom companies chipped in to mend a few rules for one reason or the other. Now content developers criticize them for arbitrary manipulating their businesses.

Content developers not persuaded

When Sunday Times spoke to the developers, they said as a result of the bulk text messages, the public became uncomfortable forcing telecom firms to limit the number of outgoing messages from application developers.

Each day no more than one text message is supposed to be sent and to them this is no surprise that businesses are struggling.

?I started this business in 2011 and used to send four text messages per day but right now I am limited to one text message a day which means no business at all,? says Everest Ntambara, a proprietor of NK&K services, a mobile application developing company.

Ntambara is worried that ever since the number of SMS issued out on a daily basis was slashed, it has been a hustle to keep pace with the competitive market.

?Most of the money you make goes into paying for expenses and unless there is improvement, we can?t make profits like we used to.? Ntambara added.

He shares concerns with many in similar business yet on the other hand it is the duty of telecom firms to protect the public from spamming (bulk messages).

Local content providers however up to date disagree and instead attribute the spamming to advertisers from international routes such as India whose exact location cannot be traced.

Charles Muhizi, the chairman of e-source, an organisation of content developers explains that the spamming is as a result of foreign inflows and in this case local developers are wrongly held accountable.

Muhizi who distributes content that includes- news, sports among others says that there was a decline in business after limiting the frequency of outgoing messages to the public.

?The curve totally went down, I used to make 18 million but now after the changes my revenue has dropped to 3 million annually,? Muhizi said.

Additional to this, Muhizi insists that rules from Telecom Companies? necessitated adjustment in technology since messages are supposed to be accompanied by an extension of an option to enable a client unsubscribe from the service.

?When you give two options in a message to the client, it is like you are telling them that the service is not important and few will pick interest. This limits work hence I have laid off most of my staff because there is almost nothing to do for the entire day,? Muhizi says.

For Aphrodice Mutangana, a software developer, these rules have given telecom companies an upper hand to dictate the mode of doing business.

?When you develop an application, you look for a service provider who you think is better positioned to run your content and because you want to start business you have to agree with what you are presented,? Mutangana says.

Mutangana who has his name to a number of applications such as Foyo M-health mobile application and ?Napteker? an African online systematic pharmaceutical directory which provides info on drugs in Africa is bothered that the percentage of share charges with the revenue collected hence need for harmonization.

?For most companies, the revenue charged depends on the turnover although some companies offer good percentages compared to others,? Mutangana explains.

Although most telecom firms contacted declined to provide us with information, Sandra Natukunda, the Airtel public relations agent refutes claims over dictatorship by the mobile companies.

According to Natukunda, before starting business, a lot of research has to be presented by the application provider to the company regarding the expected market and the exact purpose of the product before giving leeway for business.

?When we receive the proposals, we call for meetings that are supposed to discuss revenue share, projected income among many other things,? Natukunda said.

She however adds that at Airtel, a different team handles content development although maintained that everything is debatable.

On the other hand content providers are only convinced that business can resume profitability after RURA has come on board to homogenize all costs with a regulation.

Experts have their say

Patrick Nyirishema, the director general of RURA affirms that, although people always demand for regulation as the first thing, it is nearly impossible to regulate something that is not gazetted by law.

On a similar note content providers have an option of discussing a proper working relationship with the telecom companies if they are to iron out their queries which RURA is ready to mediate.

?If these people approach us, surely it is a must that we shall come up with a solution after convening discussions to satisfy either party,? Nyirishema said.

When Sunday Times contacted Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, the Minister of Youth and ICT, he was without doubt pleased with such innovations by local developers but highlighted that once one enters an agreement with a firm, one should be aware that operations now become entirely business.

He emphasized that, the revenue shares at this point would not necessarily be a debatable issue since upon entering a business commitment one is supposed to understand the terms.

?After understanding that it is business, content providers need to  know that their market who are the subscribing consumers also need protection, that is what the telecom companies are doing besides there is no business that can operate without check,? Nsengimana said.

Concerning hinging customers to a subscribed service, Nsengimana finds it inappropriate to hold consumers at ransom with only an option of subscribing and denying them room to unsubscribe from a certain service.

?Once a customer applies to a certain service, he should be provided an option of exit from that service once he or she is fed up, otherwise it may seem like only one party is favoured,? Nsengimana added.

And concerning the demand for regulation, the minister maintained that regulating now is not necessarily the solution for business but also looking into an open market of content outside Rwanda could improve income.

The minister however encourages content developers to find a win-win solution through dialogue that will help all parties concerned (telecom companies and content providers) make profit, without becoming a nuisance to the public.

Solomon Asaba, The New Times

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