Zimbabwe in mobile data rate confusion

By:
Alan Burkitt-Gray
Published on:

Zimbabwe’s Econet Wireless in fight with communications minister as data rate increased and then cut again

Zimbabwe’s only privately owned operator, Econet Wireless, is in a fierce war with the country’s telecoms minister over mobile data charges.

Econet Wireless, which owns African wholesale and enterprise operator Liquid Telecom, said information communication technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira was giving “false and misleading” information about the rates.

Econet is owned by Zimbabwe businessman Strive Masiyiwa. The government took over VimpelCom’s Telecel in November 2016 – after trying to raise the agreed $40 million for over a year. The country’s only other mobile operator, NetOne, is also state-owned, and the government wants all operators to share infrastructure.

This latest dispute started when the regulator, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), tried to enforce a decision to raise mobile data rates.

The move was seen by some as a way of clamping down on the use of social media in opposition to Robert Mugabe’s government, but others said higher rates were needed in order to pay for investment in infrastructure.

Econet Wireless followed Potraz’s rules and last week raised data rates 25-fold, a move that was accompanied by widespread protests. Econet insisted it was complying with the regulator’s decisions, but later rolled back the price rises, and condemned Mandiwanzira for saying that it was his action that led to the rethink about prices.

Mandiwanzira said on Twitter that he had been out of the country since 26 December and would look at the issue when he came back to Zimbabwe on 30 January. “On return to work, I will get to the bottom of it,” he said.

However on Friday he issued a statement condemning operators’ “shockingly high” rates and said they were showing “gluttonous corporate greed”. Reuters reported Mandiwanzira saying that the new prices had been proposed to the regulator by mobile phone companies.

Econet said, according to Zimbabwe media, that Mandiwanzira’s statement about the rates was “false and misleading”, adding: “Up to the time we did the roll back, no such reversal (as later announced by Mandiwanzira) had been communicated to us.”

The company added, according to Zimbabwe News: “We view this as a farce and a set up intended by the minister and our competitors who are under the minister’s control to portray the new director general of Potraz in bad light and to portray Econet Wireless as gluttonous and insensitive to the public.”

The company continued: “We urge the government of Zimbabwe to move decisively against the capture of this all-important industry by an individual who has such inconsistencies and duplicity. … Since his appointment to this ministry he has behaved as if he is the minister of the government-owned entities alone and has been relentlessly attacking us without just cause.”