A storm is brewing in Zimbabwe’s mobile sector following the government’s decision to suspend a regulator-enforced increase in mobile charges. On 5 January telecoms watchdog POTRAZ ordered operators to charge a minimum of USD0.02 per MB for mobile data usage and USD0.12 per minute for mobile voice calls, with effect from 9 January. The regulator said the price hikes had been implemented after consultation with the country’s three mobile operators, privately owned market leader Econet Wireless plus state-backed firms NetOne and Telecel.
While Econet went on to raise its tariffs on 11 January, prompting a host of complaints from its subscribers, its state-owned rivals failed to comply with the order. On 12 January Minister of ICT Supa Mandiwanzira suspended the proposed tariff increases by Econet, criticising the operator for its ‘gluttonous corporate greed’, saying its new pricing was ‘unparalleled and extortionist’.
Econet then hit back at the Minister, issuing a statement which criticised his ‘inconsistencies and duplicity’. The firm said it was the only one which paid the ‘punitive’ licence renewal fee of USD137.5 million and that it is owed millions of dollars by government-owned competitors in respect of interconnection charges, saying this was justification for working with POTRAZ to increase floor prices for mobile services. Econet claimed that the Minister had been ‘relentlessly attacking us without just cause and reversing the gains that this sector has made over the years’. Mandiwanzira has now responded by warning the cellco ‘to stay away from politics and stick to its core mandate of business’.