Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) has obtained an interim injunction from the High Court in Blantyre, which This injunction prohibits Multichoice Malawi from making any changes or modifications to DSTV tariffs, including those outlined in their letter dated July 17, 2023.

A statement dated July 29 from MACRA Director General, Daud Suleman said this injunction will remain in effect until the ongoing judicial review case number 1 of 2023 is concluded -- which Multichoice Malawi initiated against MACRA.

"It is important to note that any attempt by Multichoice Malawi to implement tariff changes or adjustments during this period will be a violation of the court order and could result in legal consequences.

"Therefore, the DSTV tariffs will remain unchanged until the conclusion of the matter."

Suleman emphasized that MACRA is "dedicated to creating a fair and transparent regulatory environment for all stakeholders in the communications sector".

The issue of tariff adjustment is long standing as earlier this year, MACRA Board fined MultiChoice Malawi for effecting DStv tariff increase without its approval after the High Court ordered the service provider to adhere to MACRA's request for engagement on matter.

MultiChoice Malawi was fined K10 million and also ordered to refund customers of the difference of the increased DStv tariff it effected in July without prior approval from the regulator.

But MultiChoice Malawi rejected the orders from the regulator, arguing that it is being penalized for a DStv service which is owned and managed by MultiChoice Africa Holdings, which sets the prices of DStv.

The response from Corporate Affairs Manager, Zena Makunje then said: "MultiChoice Malawi does not set the price of this service nor decide on any price adjustments. MultiChoice Malawi merely collects the subscription for DStv on behalf of MultiChoice Africa Holdings.

"MACRA is, therefore, penalizing MultiChoice Malawi for a service that is not ours, for prices we do not set and attempting to impose conditions which the law does not prescribe."

When notifying MACRA of their subscription fee increase effective August 1, MultiChoice indicated that they were advised by MultiChoice Africa Holdings, the provider of the DStv service.

MultiChoice also indicated that they are cognizant of the fact that the ongoing court process Judicial Review Case No. 1 of 2023 between the Authority and and themselves that "deals with this very issue of the difference in interpretation of the relevant price approval provisions and their application to MultiChoice Malawi".

"We are also alive to the separate on-going settlement discussions on the proceedings, on which we remain hopeful that the parties may still reach consensus.

"As part of the settlement discussions, we agreed in Salima on 15th June 2023 to explore the possibility of aligning on a notification regime for the DStv tariffs as a way forward. To that extent, we provided our views on how such regime could be framed through a letter to the Authority, dated 4th July 2023, which is still pending the Authority's response.

"We therefore humbly request that the Authority respond to our proposal at its earliest convenience to provide clarity on the way forward."

Further, in considering the matters raised, and pending conclusion of the proceedings or settlement discussions, following the meeting in Salima, MultiChoice thus undertook to keep MACRA abreast of the changes to the DStv prices as and when such is communicated to them by MultiChoice Africa Holdings.

In January, in the public notice that Suleman released said MultiChoice Malawi breached section 74(1) of the Communications Act (Cap. 68:01 of the Laws of Malawi) and clause 11 of MultiChoice's Subscription Management Service Licence for adjusting tariffs for DStv without approval from the Authority.

The regulator engaged MultiChoice Malawi on November 28, 2022 and allowed the service provider to make written representations "pursuant to regulation 32(3)(e) of the Commissions Regulations".

Thus ordered sanctions that "MultiChoice Malawi should credit its customers per bouquet the difference between the pre-adjustment price for its bouquet and the actual implemented price for the whole period the unapproved tariffs have been in force".

This was in pursuant to section 195(2)(a) of the Communications Act and that "the refunds shall cover the period from the date of effecting the purported tariff adjustment (15 July, 2022) to the date of the refund".

MultiChoice Malawi was also been ordered to "submit its subscriber database to the Authority and publish a notice in the press stating that customers have been credited with the difference between the unapproved tariff and the ore-adjustment tariff pursuant to section 195(2)(g) of the Communications Act".

MultiChoice Malawi was also ordered to cease and desist from implementing the unapproved tariffs pursuant to section 195(2)(a) and (g) as read with section 173(2)(b) of the Communications Act.

In the same vein, MACRA advised all operators in the ICT sector "to desist from effecting new tariffs without prior approval from the Authority to avoid breaching provisions of the Communications Act and respective licence terms and conditions".

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