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By Michael Malakata , IDG News Service

The Zambia Business Forum is opposed to the government’s hike in international gateway license fees, calling the move unresponsive to the needs of local entrepreneurs.

The Zambian government has increased the license fees from US$12 million to $19.5 million, making it more difficult for private mobile service providers to operate their own access signaling codes.

The higher fees will further increase the cost of doing business in Zambia and will weaken the competitive nature of Zambia’s telecom industry, said Zambia Business Forum executive director Reginald Mfula.

“The amount that the government is asking from service providers is seen as an entry barrier into the country’s telecom industry,” he said.

The Zambian government, however, has deliberately placed the licenses out of financial reach because it does not want private mobile service providers operating their own gateways for security reasons, Minister of Communications and Transport Dora Siliya has said.

The move is also aimed at protecting the financially troubled, government-run Zambia Telecommunications Company, which collects revenue for routing other service providers’ calls through its own international gateways.

In addition to the gateway fees, service providers are also required to pay regulatory taxes to the Communications Authority of Zambia, the country’s telecom regulator.

The fee increase makes Zambia’s international gateway license the most expensive in the region. By comparison, gateway licenses cost $214,000 in Kenya and $50,000 in Uganda.