Zimbabwe has ordered mobile network operators to revert back to old data tariffs in an about-turn decision on newly implemented data prices this week. Subscribers have welcomed the decision, although there is speculation that it could impact on potential revenue growth for local telcos.
The country’s three mobile operators – Econet Wireless, Telecel Zimbabwe and NetOne – had been directed to scrap promotional bundle tariffs they were offering for both data browsing and social media.
Econet was the first to implement the floor data tariffs of about 2 US cents per MB. Previously, US$1 worth of airtime gave subscribers approximately 250MB on Econet and around 300MB on Telecel Zimbabwe (valid for 24 hours), while US$5 on NetOne purchased 300MB browsing.
NetOne’s US$5 bundle also came with 700MB and 900MB for WhatsApp and Facebook respectively, while Econet was offering 90MB for a weekly data bundle of US$1.
Zimbabwe: consumer furore over fees forces renegotiation
New data fees ‘floor’ Zimbabwe subscribers
ICT Minister Supa Mandiwanzira wants telcos to refund subscribers for losses incurred after implementation of new tariffs.
“It may be necessary and morally correct to get the concerned mobile networks to refund their subscribers. This shall be on the agenda when I undertake a comprehensive review of the developments of the last two days,” Mandiwanzira said in a statement late last night.
Mobile network operators and officials have clashed over responsibility for the steep data prices.
Douglas Mboweni, Econet Wireless CEO, said on Thursday that the exorbitant tariffs had been enacted following a directive from the country’s regulator Potraz (Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe).
“The new floor pricing for data which was done in compliance with the directive that was issued to all mobile network operators by the industry regulator,” said Mboweni.
However, Potraz said on Friday that mobile operators in the country had engaged the government over “declining revenues” which were “threatening industry viability and service roll out” across the country.
“This decision (to hike data fees) has been met with consumer outcry… given the current economic challenges. In fact mobile network operators met prior to the issuance of this determination and proposed even higher floor prices,” read a statement from Potraz.
Informed telecom industry sources in Zimbabwe told ITWeb Africa on Friday that the mobile operators are offering lower promotional bundles to encourage take-up of data platforms. The industry has also reeled from intensifying competition occasioned by cheaper communication alternatives such as social media and instant messaging platforms.
The mobile companies did not immediately comment on the implication of the reversal but did advise subscribers on the reversal.
Executives from Zimbabwean telcos have previously complained that Over the Top (OTT) platforms were eating into revenue generating capacity and potential from voice telephony, the industry’s traditional cash cow as people switched more onto cheaper alternatives.