The Coalition of University Students has called on the government to heed calls by the flag bearer of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), John Dramani Mahama, to negotiate with the telcos to reduce the cost of internet data and airtime for students and customers in general in the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ghana.
Mr Mahama asked the government of Ghana to reach some agreement with the telecom companies which would result in the cutting of the cost of internet during the COVID-19 crisis.
While presenting some food items meant for distribution to vulnerable households in locked-down areas such as Accra, Tema, Kumasi and Kasoa, Mr Mahama said it was imperative for the government to ensure that the cost of internet falls since a lot of people are working from home while students are also accessing lectures and education resources online.
“At this point, the government has not yet addressed the need to negotiate with the telcos for a reduction in their tariffs to benefit the millions spending longer hours online and making calls”, he said.
“As I speak, several students and pupils are having lectures and school sessions online because of the Coronavirus disease.
“This has drastically increased their expenditure on internet usage to the extent that some can no longer cope. Indeed, there have been reports of several students who are unable to complete online lectures before their 'data' run out. Several people are also working from home.
“Due to these pressing needs, I wish to bring the issue of cost of internet and voice services back as another priority policy agenda.
“I have already suggested that the government can assure the telcos of a free six-month extension of licences – some of which are to expire very soon. This value can be applied to cushion consumers during this 3-month period”, Mr Mahama noted.
Additionally, he suggested “the telcos can also be compensated with funds from the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communication (GIFEC), which already has the mandate to ensure universal access to telecommunication”.
Adding their voice to Mr Mahama’s call, the students’ coalition on Thursday, 16 April 2020, said the “call could not have come at any better time”, as the deadly virus has compelled students to undertake lectures online while at home, reiterating that “this has greatly increased the hours we spend on the internet and its accompanying high cost.”
The coalition, however, commended the “government and the African Business Centre for Development Education, ABCDE, for introducing the eCampus platform to engage Senior High School students following the closure of schools, and wish to add that this can only be sustained if students are provided with free internet data.”
It continued that: “E-learning platforms such as Zoom, Google Classroom, etc., are very much data-consuming, and we, as a result of being dependents, put extra financial burden on our parents and guardians.
“We are all for continuity of academic activities in these COVID-19 times; E-learning has come in handy”, the statement added.
It further continued that: “As suggested by former President Mahama, we encourage the government to take immediate steps and arrange with the telcos for a reduction in their tariffs. This will allow students’ continuous access to online learning without difficulty.”
“It is our unshaken hope that the government will heed” Mr Mahama’s “advocacy for a suppression in call rates and data charges, as part of its COVID-19 freebies.”