NewsDay (Zimbabwe)

Exorbitant internet costs choke Zimbos

- — Anadolu Agency

EIGHT gigabytes (GB) of private internet data from Zimbabwe’s largest mobile network company at the beginning of 2021 cost US$15, or $1 300. From March 10, the same 8GB shot to US$18, equivalent to $1 560, with 50GB of private internet data from Econet Wireless rising to US$47, which is about $4 000.

Beginning July 8, Econet, which has more than four million subscriber­s, revised its data pricing upwards.

Subscriber­s have to part with US$23 to buy 8GB of private data while the highest private bundle of 50GB has been priced at the equivalent of US$73.

Indigenous dealers not spared

For many, like Gift Tseyani, 23, who is a high school dropout, but an avid internet-based news consumer, the latest hike in prices at Econet has crumbled his quest for news. He said he could not afford the cost.

The second-hand mobile phone street vendor said reading news on the internet had suddenly become a luxury.

“I have stopped subscribin­g to private wifi internet on my mobile phone and yes, I have been a regular subscriber of Econet private wifi, but with the prices up again now, I just have to do without internet,” Tseyani told Anadolu Agency.

Even the popular WhatsApp messaging service monthly data package at Econet now costs more than US$5, leaving the price beyond reach for many like Tseyani.

Virtual learning under threat from expensive data The situation is worse for Harare-based Netty Chiwawa, 44, a teacher and mother of three school-going age children who had to switch to virtual learning during lockdowns to curtail the spread of the coronaviru­s.

Netty works as a government primary schoolteac­her. Having capitalise­d on the lockdown to conduct private lessons with students to earn extra income, the stream of money has been curtailed by exorbitant internet costs as she has to conduct lessons virtually.

Her own children have also not been spared by the crisis given that they have a single parent whose monthly income can no longer meet their internet requiremen­ts for virtual learning during the lockdowns.

“I can’t continue with the online private lessons because internet data is now too expensive and that means loss of business for me,” Chiwawa told Anadolu Agency, adding that it means her children have no choice but to quit virtual learning.

Government workers most affected

Teachers employed by the government, like Chiwawa, currently earn US$200 monthly.

But according to the Zimbabwe Teachers Associatio­n (ZTA), teachers have been demanding salaries of about US$550. For Chiwawa, at least increased wages may revive her dream of affording her children’s virtual learning amid lockdowns. But the government has not acceded to the demands of its workers, like teachers.

Virtual trading threatened by high data costs

Businessme­n like Petros Musasiwa, 36, a vehicle accessorie­s dealer who trades his products via social media like WhatsApp, have been pounded by rising internet costs.

“I have pulled out of WhatsApp groups where I was advertisin­g and actively selling my wares during these days of endless lockdowns. Surely, I have no capacity to stomach the internet costs which have kept rising,” Musasiwa told Anadolu Agency.

For Bernard Garwe, an academic research consultant based in Harare, it is no longer business as usual as internet costs have also drained him.

“I have always depended on the internet for all my research and with the high cost now, it means hard times for me. From now, I don’t know how I will cope,” he said.

Garwe said his business was waning as clients ditch him because he constantly went offline due to unaffordab­le internet costs.

“People requiring my academic consultanc­y in terms of their university research projects are also having a torrid time during this COVID-19-era battling to virtually link up with me as they are also victims to high internet costs,” he said.

Ranked 136th in the world for mobile data pricing in a study-based on the cost of 1GB of mobile data, neighbouri­ng South Africa’s data costs an average of US$2,67 (R38,93) for 1GB of data, with the cheapest data costing US$0,12, while the most expensive is $34,95. Sub-Saharan Africa has six of the 10 most expensive countries in the world for internet costs, with Equatorial Guinea the most expensive at US$49,67 for 1GB of internet data, according to Network companies passing costs on to consumers As internet costs hound the majority of the population and companies in Zimbabwe, mobile network companies like Econet have gotten away with murder.

“The bundle price adjustment is an average 20 percent uplift across the board, and is essentiall­y in response to rising input costs.

“Our pricing review is designed to ensure viability of the business and ensure that we continue to offer a reasonable quality of service to our valued customers,” Econet said in a statement after hiking prices on July 8.

Media not spared as data costs rise

Irked by rising costs during the peak of coronaviru­s cases last year, the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe wasted no time in taking on mobile network firms like Econet.

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