HARARE, January 13 (The Source) – The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) has cancelled its directive compelling mobile telephone network operators to increase prices for internet access after a public outcry.
On Monday, the telecommunications regulator announced a minimum price of 2 cents per megabyte (MB) of data and 12 cents per minute for voice calls.
About 98 percent of Zimbabwe’s 7 million internet subscriptions use mobile devices, POTRAZ statistics show. While voice traffic has been in decline over the past few years amid growing use of over the top communication services, internet use has been growing steadily and providing an effective, alternative platform in a country where the government hogs the broadcasting spectrum.
According to a report by POTRAZ for the third quarter of 2016, total voice traffic declined by 3.6 percent from the previous quarter, while mobile data utilisation increased by 16.1 percent over the same period.
The regulator’s move to set minimum prices which would have vaulted Zimbabwe’s mobile internet rates way above regional peers, with 1GB of data being charged at a minimum US$20 in a country with grinding poverty and a jobless rate above 90 percent, triggered outrage and forced a policy reversal.
“It is clear that this decision has been met with consumer outcry, understandably so, given the current economic challenges. It is against this background that POTRAZ would like to advise consumers and stakeholders in general of its decision to withdraw Regulatory Determination No 1 of 2016 with immediate effect,” POTRAZ said in a statement issued late on Thursday.
In a separate statement, also issued on Thursday night, ICT Minister Supa Mandiwanzira said he had ordered the reversal.
“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.
“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.”
Prior to the regulator’s reversal, Zimbabwe’s largest mobile operator Econet, the only one to have effected a price increase, had announced it would revert to old tariffs due to its two rivals’ non-compliance with the POTRAZ pricing directive.