Zimbabweans, who took to social media to voice their displeasure at an overnight spike in the cost of mobile internet access data caused by what mobile network operators (MNOs) called a regulatory directive imposing a floor price, have forced the government and the regulator to withdraw the directive.
Within 48 hours of the data price hikes being announced particularly by the largest operator Econet Wireless, the government responsible for telecommunications in Zimbabwe Mr Supa Mandiwanzira issued a statement suspending the directive from the regulatory authority.
“I have conversed with POTRAZ Chairman…and have directed an immediate suspension of the tariff increases that were effected two days ago”, said Mandiwanzira in the statement.
The minister had earlier drawn the ire of Zimbabweans on social media when he tweeted that he would only deal with the matter after he returns from his holiday from abroad on the 30th of January. The message was met with angry replies demanding he brings himself to act on the issue.
#DataCost. Seen your Qs. 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.
— Supa Mandiwanzira (@SupaCollinsM) January 11, 2017
Minister Mandiwanzira on Thursday however decided to act on the price increases.
“While it is conceivable that the price of data may go up, the margin by which the prices have gone up is shockingly high and can only reflect insensitivity to fellow Zimbabweans and gluttonous corporate greed”, read the statement by Minister Mandiwanzira.
Econet Wireless had issued a statement to accompany the price hikes and following protests by users where they attempted to shift the blame to the regulator’s directive.
“Econet acknowledges that our recent implementation of 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 has not only inconvenienced you our valued customers but has caused you pain”, read the dominating mobile operator’s statement.
However, by the end of the first day the operator had reviewed their prices upwards, a leaked document allegedly from a meeting between the regulator and the MNOs revealed that it was the operators who had in fact requested a floor price citing viability issues in a low tariff environment.
As if to confirm the contents of the leaked document, the regulator POTRAZ issued their own statement confirming Minister Mandiwanzira’s statement and countering Econet’s.
“We are concerned and disturbed by the conduct, double standards, negative utterances and refusal to take ownership of the decision by some Mobile Network Operators (MNOs)”, read the POTRAZ statement.
“The service providers engaged the Regulator regarding declining revenues which were, according to them, threatening industry viability and service roll out. Infact the MNOs met prior to the issuance of this determination and proposed even higher floor prices through their collective voice, the Telecommunications Operators Association of Zimbabwe (TOAZ)”
Econet Wireless seems to have been the operator left with the most damage to manage from the whole debacle. The suspension of the directive by the Minister will however come as a relief to millions of Zimbabweans who rely heavily on low social media access data plans for business and communication. Low priced data bundles offered for social media access by operators have allowed Zimbabweans to join in the global online conversations as well as communicate with their relatives who are based abroad. As the economy continued on its downward spiral which has forced the bulk of the population into informal trading, availability of affordable mobile data plans has been crucial in the informal sector operations.