Source: Outrage over mobile data tariffs hike – DailyNews Live 12 January 2017
HARARE – Zimbabwe’s telecoms regulator has come under fire for hiking
mobile data tariffs by over 100 percent, making access to Internet and
social media unaffordable for most citizens.
Stakeholders described the move as “digital terrorism” and called on the
Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Potraz) to reverse it
to conduct further consultations.
Yesterday, Potraz announced that with immediate effect, the cheapest
bundle of data, or 5MB, costs 50 cents. A $1 will buy only 10MB and the
highest amount of data at 2,5GB now costs $50.
Already, Zimbabwe’s data tariffs were among the highest in the region,
with a gig of data averaging $30 compared to $5 in neighbouring South
In some countries, data is actually free.
As for social media bundles – WhatsApp and Facebook – the cheapest bundle
is now set at 50 cents for 10MB of data while $2,50 will buy 80MB.
The increase flies in the face of declarations by Potraz chairman, Ozias
Bvute, who told a seminar on innovation last year that it was engaging
Internet service providers to make mobile data affordable.
In justifying the sharp hike, Potraz director-general Gift Machengete said
Zimbabwe, being a landlocked country, has no cable landing stations and
has to access submarine cables through third party countries, making
access to international bandwidth much more expensive.
ICT minister, Supa Mandiwanzira, said on Twitter: “I’m on leave until Jan
30 & out of the country since Boxing Day. On return to work, I will get to
the bottom of it.”
However, the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa
(Misa-Zimbabwe) called on Potraz to reconsider the directive and conduct
further consultations on an ideal pricing structure that will ensure there
is balance between citizens’ rights and business interests.
“In making this call, Misa-Zimbabwe is cognisant of Potraz’s mandate to
promote competitive, affordable and accessible telecommunications services
by guaranteeing and protecting the interests of all stakeholder groups,
despite their competing interests,” Nyasha Nyakunu, the press freedom
group’s programmes coordinator, said.
He said the latest move, while cast as aimed at addressing revenue
challenges for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), will in effect inhibit the
majority of Zimbabweans’ access and activity on the Internet, especially
the very popular social media platforms due to high costs.
“In turn, this will impact on the profit margins of MNOs due to the
shrinkage of the Internet subscription base,” Nyakunu said.
Zimbabwe has three MNOs, Econet Wireless, Zimbabwe’s largest mobile phone
operator; Telecel, taken over in December by government from
Amsterdam-based mobile operator Vimpelcom, and government-owned NetOne.
Zenzele Ndebele, a digital media expert, said on micro blogging site
Twitter: “What was done by @Potraz_zw is digital terrorism. Revenues will
This comes as mobile data brought wireless carriers more revenue than
voice calls did for the last quarter, a milestone for the industry as
faster network speeds are prompting Zimbabweans to consume, and pay for
more data than ever.
Mobile data service revenue reached $194 million in the third quarter of
2016, an increase of more than 20 percent, according to a third quarter
report by the Potraz.
In the previous quarter, only $161,5 million was earned.
Chairman for Zimbabwe Institution of Engineering, Information and
Communication Technology Division (Zict), engineer Jacob Kudzayi Mutisi,
said with more use of social Apps, WhatsApp, email, over-the-top voice
services, it was plausible that the telecoms regulator would capitalise on
the Internet revolution.
“If you look around the world, data is free,” Mutisi said.
“Potraz want to make a bit of cash. It’s a way of getting some money. The
general public can challenge that.”
The hike comes after so-called “Shutdown Zimbabwe” protests in July last
year were met with Internet blackouts and arrests.
Perhaps the most important dissident leader, cleric Evan Mawarire and
other pressure groups helped bring tens of thousands of people onto the
streets using social media in a rare civilian-led demonstration promoted
with hashtags #ThisFlag and #Tajamuka, and described by many as the most
subversive movement in Zimbabwe’s recent history.
Rights groups are seeking to implore Potraz to take into consideration the
feelings of the consumers and suspend the new price floor.