Tariff rise an insidious attack on free speech

The recently implemented data prices, which drive tariffs up by more than 100%, are the latest calculated onslaught on freedom of expression and will only serve to curtail free speech.

Source: Tariff rise an insidious attack on free speech – NewsDay Zimbabwe January 12, 2017

Comment: NewsDay Editor

Couched in claims that the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) wants to promote the sustainability of mobile network operators, one of the consequences of the tariff increase is that the government gets its wishes of curtailing free speech on social media platforms and the internet.

Last year saw the rise of the use of social media as an activist platform and the government was unsure of how to respond, first promulgating draconian legislation and now ultimately blocking people out by increasing tariffs.

Used to controlling speech through State media and archaic laws, the government is wary of an unfettered social media, but is clueless on how to control it, but increasing tariffs effectively shuts down a huge segment of the population.

In the age of innovation, the government should know it cannot silence people for long and sooner rather than later, this tariff would soon be rendered redundant.

Potraz ensured the price increase by setting what they call a floor price of 2 cents per megabyte for data.

Setting a floor price for anything is inimical to a free economy and is a hallmark of a Soviet-style command economy.

Potraz, as a regulator, should not be involved in price setting, but instead promote competition and dissuade price fixing by players, however, it is the regulatory authority that is at the forefront of these uncompetitive tendencies.

The claim that Potraz wants to protect mobile operators is disingenuous and untrue, as the best way to ensure that they survive is by ensuring that there is an increase in the number of people that use mobile phone services, which will in turn reduce prices, which is known as the economies of scale.

What Potraz has done now, is to ensure that data costs are prohibitively high, dissuading consumers from using the services and ultimately reducing revenue for mobile network operators (MNOs).

MNOs have for long been a cash cow for the government, with former Finance minister Tendai Biti in 2009 revealing the government had literally been surviving on airtime tax.

His predecessor, Patrick Chinamasa, also introduced a new airtime tax in his National Budget speech last year, revealing how far the government is willing to burden the goose that lays the golden eggs.