In January, the South African based multi-national communications giant, MTN, offered to provide me with internet service through their mobile phone system for a flat monthly fee of 20 Ghana Cedis. The flat fee would allow me to transmit any amount of data, and would enable me to be online 24/7. It was a very good offer, better than the one which I had previously had with one of their competitors. I was informed that the modem which I had been using would not work with MTN, but since the offer was such a good one, I agreed to purchase the MTN modem for an amount of 210 Ghana Cedis, and began accessing the internet.

I was particularly pleased because this affordable service would enable me to carry out my plans to mount an international initiative to raise money for a major community development project in the traditional area where I am Nkosuohene (development chief). My strategy required that I establish a presence on the internet by creating a new blog, and by expanding a Facebook account. It included the sale of a new book which I published so that the proceeds could be contributed to support the cause.

The success of this effort hinged on affordable access to the internet when I am in either of my two homes – Busua on the coast where our hotel is located; and New Edubiase where my stool is located. Neither of these rural locations is served by an internet cafe, and affordable access to the internet via mobile phone provided a great alternative. Affordability was a prime concern – I do not get paid for my efforts as Nkosuohene and my income is rather modest, even by Ghanaian standards.

In March I received my first invoice and was surprised to see an amount of 225.48 Ghana Cedis for GPRS service. I inquired at the MTN office in Takoradi where I had signed up for the service. I paid the amount which had originally been agreed upon (20 Ghana Cedis plus 2.50), and was told that the matter would be investigated to see why there was such a discrepancy.

Included with the invoice was a letter from the MTN Chief Marketing Manager dated January 29th with the opening line “We invite you to explore the world of MTN GPRS. Tariffs for this service have been revised for your convenience and cost effectiveness.” At the bottom of the page there was an additional note “Kindly note that you would be automatically migrated to data package 2 (i.e. GHC20/month with 250 MB) on March 1, 2009 if we do not hear from you as we will assume you prefer to continue paying your current fee of GHC 20 per month.”

The rest of the letter talked about monthly packages and buckets and since I had already been offered a flat monthly fee of GHC 20 with no discussion about “buckets”, I did not think that it applied to me. I left the office confident that the matter would be resolved and a correction to my invoice would be made accordingly. After all, MTN is a big company and I had the expectation that it would treat its customers with the same respect and level of service as the very competent staff who looked after me in their Takoradi office.

In April, the March invoice arrived. It showed an outstanding balance carried forward of GHC 241.90, plus an additional amount for GPRS service of GHC 155.26. Once again, I went to the MTN office to question the invoice, and again was told that inquiries were being made on my behalf. I paid the GHC 20 + 2.50 which I felt that I owed, and left the office. Several days later the service was disconnected.

Numerous phone calls and repeat trips to the MTN office ensued, all without avail. The Supervisor of the Postpaid Section of the Accra office attempted to explain that as far back as October, this offer had been terminated. He claimed that therefore there was nothing that could be done except that a payment plan could be negotiated to pay the outstanding balance. I subsequently called the Kumasi office to find out what offer they were making for GPRS service and was told the same thing that I had been told in Takoradi. Something did not add up.

The April invoice arrived in May. Once again I paid the GHC 20 + 2.50, leaving the balance the MTN claims is owed at GHC 438.00!!! Not bad, since I signed up the last half of January and was cut off mid-April, and had paid each month the amount which MTN had asked for. Instead of GHC 20 per month, the GPRS service works out to be closer to GHC 160 per month.

The MTN Regional Manager for the Western and Central Region was brought into the discussion. In the beginning, it seemed that there was some understanding and agreement, but before the matter could be resolved, we were back to the same position put forward by the Postpaid Supervisor, with no acknowledgment of the deceptive fashion in which MTN hooked me into buying their modem.

So here we are now – almost the middle of June. An apparent stand-off. Does the mighty MounTaiN have any intention of honouring the offer which it made? Who is most important to them? Their customers, who provide them the revenue they need to make a profit? Their shareholders, most of whom are back in South Africa, sitting around their board room tables and scanning the map of Africa in search of another pawn in the communication game? We wait to see the answer to these and other questions…