The Sunday Mail
Senior Business Reporter
THE Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) has allocated the country’s three mobile network operators free frequencies until the end of the year as part of measures to ensure affordable data to consumers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Potraz director-general Dr Gift Machengete said the authority has granted Econet, NetOne and Telecel free spectrum to enable them to increase their capacities to offer data to consumers.
“During the Covid-19, Potraz will be assigning additional 3G (Third Generation Network) and LTE (Long Term Evolution) spectrum for free to cater for additional data demand. The authority has granted the spectrum up to December 2020 to three mobile operators to enable them to increase the capacity of their data offering,” he said.
This, however, comes at a time when mobile network operators have reviewed upwards charges for most of their services, including data, sparking an outcry from users who say the services were now beyond their reach.
Econet, the country biggest mobile phone operator, increased data prices by 225 percent.
However, Dr Machengete said the review was within what the regulator prescribed (30 cents per megabyte) as firms were all along charging less to attract customers.
Potraz, he said, continues to regulate tariffs for data or Internet using the cost-based pricing principle.
“Costs incurred to provide the service are used to determine thresholds within which operators set tariffs. This is meant to balance the need to ensure service affordability at the same time ensuring survival of operators. Operators then get flexibility to compete on prices as manifested in their discounted bundle offerings,” he said.
Government is said to be working on using the Zimbabwe Academic and Research Network (ZARNet)’s low-cost broadband connectivity to facilitate online learning at schools.
“The Ministry of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services has ZARNet, which has the sole responsibility of providing high-speed and low-cost broadband connectivity to the educational sector including schools and other academic institutions with funding from the Universal Service Fund. This will help towards facilitating online education,” he said.
Potraz has granted a free licence to Zimbabwe Research and Education Network (ZIMREN), which is a consortium of tertiary institutions, to enable the pooled sourcing of Internet connectivity and distribution.
The move is expected to reduce the cost of Internet for tertiary institutions.
Information Communication Technology (ICT) expert Mr Prosper Mutswiri said the allocation of free spectrum to operators by Potraz would boost their capacity to provide reliable and affordable data.
“It is an exciting and welcome development by the regulator as this will aid operators’ capacities to provide reliable and affordable data to customers. It also comes in the wake of the coronavirus, where customers are experiencing reduced disposable income and want to do business online and digitally. This move means there is more for less for the customers. Some base stations were now congested due to increased demand and the move has relieved that pain,” he said.
With most schools and companies increasing their online presence, he added, there was need for mobile network operators to enhance their bandwidth to meet the ever-increasing demand for such applications.
“Operators had to increase capacities on either 3G network or LTE network, which was going to come at a cost, likely to increase operators’ fixed costs thereby impacting their pricing structure.
“Potraz has decided to step into the shoes of the operator and customer and this will go a long way in addressing all sectors of the economy’s current pains,” he said.
National Consumer Rights Association (Nacora) advocacy advisor, Mr Effie Ncube, said the move by Potraz was commendable, but there was need to ensure that operators avail data at affordable charges.
“This is a tremendously important and welcome development for millions of Zimbabweans who are relying on data to get information, particularly when we are faced with a global pandemic in Covid-19 . . .
“If only the three mobile service providers translate that to cheaper voice call and data prices . . . what Potraz has done and the steps it has taken are welcomed by all,” he said.