Zim data tariff sparks social media frenzy
HEATED debates and outcries over Zimbabwe’s new mobile data prices have prompted a new wave of negotiations between operators and the government over a possible review of the fees, although this could take longer to resolve, with the ICT minister saying he is away on leave until January 30.
But that did not prevent him from being at the receiving end of a barrage of insults, criticism and anger from disgruntled subscribers. Some users even suggested adopting South African mobile networks, such as MTN and Vodacom, and using them on roaming in Zimbabwe.
“Shall we start buying South African lines and rely on international roaming for life? Now is the time to show ‘resilience’,” tweeted advocate Fadzai Mahere under the #DataMustFall banner.
The new “floor” data tariffs approved by the Zimbabwe government have been set by the regulator at 2 cents per 1MB, with Econet Wireless, the biggest telco, now charging $5 for 250MB and 50 cents for 5MB.
Supa Mandiwanzira, the Zimbabwean ICT minister, has been called names on Facebook and Twitter after he said on Wednesday: “Seen your questions. I’m on leave until Jan 30 & out of the country since Boxing Day. On return to work, I will get to the bottom of it.”
Although the directive to hike data charges was issued to all mobile network operators – including NetOne and Telecel Zimbabwe, which are both owned by the state – Econet implemented the new data tariffs first. For this it has been targeted for insults by angry Zimbabweans, although chief executive officer Douglas Mboweni said yesterday that the company shared its subscribers’ “pain” and anguish over the data fees.
“We have read and listened to the feedback that you have shared with us in respect to this action. We are engaging the regulator on the matter,” Mboweni said.
Gift Machengete, the director-general of Potraz, said the introduction of the new floor prices for data “will ensure consistent and sustainable long-term provision of services” by operators in Zimbabwe.
“The authority’s intention in setting floor prices is, therefore, to maintain a delicate balance between service affordability by consumers and operator viability,” Machengete said.
Sources told Business Report that a series of meetings had lined up between the operators and government representatives, while Mandiwanzira had been briefed about the stand-off over the new data tariffs.
Some analysts and other experts said the data tariff hike was the government’s response to the growing popularity and influence of social media platforms on potential protest actions against the government in elections slated for 2018. In 2016, President Robert Mugabe’s government was rocked by protests organised and mobilised through social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook.
Although the mobile operators had always pressed for a hike in data tariffs, the resistance that the new fees have been met with have prompted them to seek a review, said one source.
“Executives from mobile operators are lining up meetings with ministry and Potraz officials and are seeking audiences with the director-general. But they have always pushed for a hike in tariffs arguing that operating conditions justify an increase,” another government official with knowledge of developments said yesterday. Discussions
Brian Mutandiro, the acting chief executive officer at NetOne, which has not yet implemented the new data tariffs, also said the government-owned telco was in discussions with the telecom regulator on implementation of the new, steep data fees.
But subscribers are not taking any of the explanations offered by government officials and by executives from the mobile operators, with Twitter user Tinashe Manyanga saying in a message directed to Mandiwanzira: “Did you guys consider that data is not just for ‘social’ media, but it’s also a learning and economic tool?”