After a public outcry, Zimbabwe’s information communication technology minister, Supa Mandiwanzira, has suspended, with immediate effect, huge data tariff hikes set by Potraz, that country’s telecoms regulator.
Reacting to the data price hikes, which came into effect on Wednesday this week, some Zimbabweans suggested the massive price increases were a crude attempt by their government to curb frequent social media criticism and verbal abuse directed at President Robert Mugabe, who turns 93 next month.
Outspoken Higher and Tertiary Education Minister Jonathan Moyo condemned the hikes, saying: “Use of overpricing, instead of technology, to curb internet access or manage social media is primitive elitism and promotes underdevelopment.”
Following the outcry, Mandiwanzira on Thursday night released a statement, saying he met the telecoms regulator, Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz)’s chairperson Ozias Bvute, and they had decided suspend the price increases of data.
“With the kind permission of the Acting Minister of ICT, Postal & Courier Services, Cde Prisca Mupfumira, I have directed an immediate suspension of the tariff increases that were effected two days ago, to the dismay of many mobile phone users,” said Mandiwanzira.
“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.
“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.”
Mandiwanzira described the recently hiked voice and data bundle tariffs as “unparalleled and extortionist” at the same attacking the move, saying it undermined “huge” investments in human capital, broadband infrastructure and the ability to attract investment.
He said 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”.
Last week Potraz set floor prices for voice and data bundled services, including promotional packages. A floor price is a minimum effective tariff chargeable per minute voice calls and megabyte of data.
The telecoms regulator set 12 US cents as charge for traditional voice calls and 2 US cents per megabyte data.
Potraz said the setting of floor prices was aimed at “addressing the apparent underpricing of voice and data services that was characteristic of data bundles and promotions that were being offered by promoters”.
When the regulator set the new tariffs, the country’s biggest telecoms firm, Econet Wireless, raised their data tariffs as well by 100%, while other networks said they were “yet to effect the changes”.
But on Thursday Econet, in a statement to reverse the hikes, said: “While continuing to engage Potraz concerning the data floor pricing directive, Econet Wireless is reverting to the old data tariffs.”
Econet added: “It became apparent after implement the Potraz directive that Econet Wireless was the only operator which had complied with the data floor pricing.
“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.”
However, Potraz said in a notice that it was concerned and disturbed by the “conduct, double standards, negative utterances and refusal to take ownership of the decision by some mobile network operators (MNOs)”.
It said the service providers had actually engaged the regulator “regarding declining revenues which were, according to them, threatening industry viability and service rollout”.
Potraz said MNOs actually proposed even higher floors through their collective voice, the Telecommunications Operators’ Association of Zimbabwe.