Ivory Coast mobile firms risk losing licences over poor service

Mon May 6, 2013 2:05pm EDT

* Government will review telecoms deals within six months

* Companies must now be 15 percent locally owned

ABIDJAN May 6 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast mobile telecoms companies risk losing their licences if they do not improve their poor levels of service, a minister said on Monday.

The government also plans to ensure that the country's seven operators are at least 15 percent locally owned, information technology and communications minister Bruno Kone said.

"Within six months we will take stock of our agreements, our commercial agreements, technical agreements and financial agreements of all the operators with the state regulator of Ivory Coast," Kone said during a visit to telcoms operator MTN in Abidjan.

"I can tell you already, the head of state is encouraging us, instructing us even, to shut down all operators not up to date," he said.

Ivory Coast is emerging from a decade-long political crisis that ended in a brief civil war in 2011 and only began issuing third-generation mobile licences later that year.

Kone said the government was disappointed with the quality of service in the sector.

"Not a day passes that there are not complaints about service ... We think that the population everywhere has the right to better service," he said.

He said companies would be required to open up ownership to Ivorian investors.

"You must reserve at least 15 percent of your capital for Ivorian shareholders," the minister said.

Ivory Coast, French-speaking West Africa's largest economy, has around 18 million mobile phone subscribers out of a total estimated population of 24 million.

Its five existing operators are France Telecom's Orange, South Africa's MTN, Libya's Green, Etisalat's Moov and Koz of Lebanon-based Comium.

Domestically-owned Cafe Mobile was granted a licence last year. Abu Dhabi-based Warid Telecom also holds an unused operating permit.

(Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Additional reporting and writing by Joe Bavier; Eduiting by David Cowell)