Zimbabwe’s telecommunications regulator has backed down over new floor prices for telecoms services, resulting in the country’s largest operator, Econet Wireless, reversing large price increases announced earlier in the week.
In a statement, the country’s ICT minister, Supa Mandiwanzira, said he had “conversed” with the regulator, Potraz, and that the tariffs would be scrapped.
In the statement, published by Techzim, a Zimbabwean technology news site, Mandiwanzira said: “I have been told that the new prices were actually proposed by the mobile operators to the regulator. While it is conceivable that the price of data may go up, the margin by which the prices have gone up is shockingly high and can only reflect insensitivity to fellow Zimbabweans and gluttonous corporate greed.”
President Robert Mugabe’s government had been accused of using the new regulated floor prices as a way of making it unaffordable for Zimbabweans to use social media.
Potraz this week began enforcing the new floor prices for both voice and data, arguing the regulations were necessary to protect the sustainability of mobile operators.
But the new regulations came under fire, with opposition politician David Coltart, for example, blasting the new rules. “Data bundles have gone up by 2 500% in Zimbabwe, directed by the regime — presumably, and unconstitutionally, to stifle the use of social media,” Coltart tweeted.
Last year, Zimbabweans used social media actively to criticise Mugabe’s Zanu-PF regime, under the hashtag “#ThisFlag”.
The protests were started by a pastor, Evan Mawarire, who posted a series of YouTube videos in which he expressed his love for Zimbabwe and expressed his frustration with the government.
In his statement, issued on Thursday evening, Madiwanzira said: “Internet is now a key driver of economic growth — innovation, entrepreneurship and government service delivery. Internet access is at the centre of all development. It, therefore, follows that it must be accessible — physically and financially.
“I share and sympathise with concerns expressed by a multitude of Zimbabwean Internet users that the recently effected data prices are unparalleled and extortionist.
“Given the astronomical rates that have been charged over the last two days, it may be necessary and morally correct to get the concerned mobile networks to refund their subscribers.”
But Econet — the only operator to implement price increases in terms of the Potraz regulations — hit back at critics.
“It became apparent after implementing the Potraz directive that Econet Wireless was the only operator which had complied with the data floor pricing,” it said in a statement.
“It is clear that, for whatever reason, the other operators had not complied with the directive and therefore there can never be a level playing field when our customers are the only ones being affected by this position.
“This is not the first time that Econet has complied and the other operators have not complied,” it said. — (c) 2017 NewsCentral Media