NEWSDAY business reporter Victoria Mtomba (ND) last month interviewed Tel One managing director Chipo Mtasa (CM) on the use of fixed landlines in Zimbabwe as mobile phone penetration levels reaches saturation point. Below are excerpts of the interview:
ND: What has been the performance of the parastatal this year? Were you able to pay dividends to your shareholder this year?
CM: Tel One’s performance has started to improve this year (last year). The company employed new turnaround strategies which resulted in an increase in revenues and improvement in liquidity. Some of these strategies include a debt collection campaign that was conducted nationwide for three months. In November, we launched the Talk, Surf and Win Promotion which has increased our revenue streams as a result of demand for voice and Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL).
ND: How do you rate your service delivery as a telecommunications company this year?
CM: Tel One has performed well this year as evidenced by the increase in ADSL subscribers. We managed to expand the service to new areas; Chegutu, Kadoma, Norton, Kwekwe, Masvingo, Zvishavane, Bindura, Beitbridge, Chinhoyi, Bindura and Shurugwi. In August, we successfully commissioned the Victoria Falls Transmission Link in August.
We are also in the process of modernising our client service centres as well as increasing our accessibility for the client to have easy access to TelOne services and products. This year, TelOne opened a new shop at Borrowdale and Westgate Mall in Harare as well as Burnside in Bulawayo. Shops will also be opened in Chitungwiza, Kamfinsa and Joina City, early 2014.
ND: How much money are you owed as a telecommunications company by customers?
CM: TelOne is owed considerably high amounts by customers. However, following a successful debt collection campaign, we have managed to collect $80 million in the year.
ND: Did you manage to slash bills for your customers as you intended to do?
CM: TelOne effected a debt relief package that reflected on the November 2013 statement and $257, 82 has been written off all accounts and we have also written-off rentals accrued on all lines that had been disconnected for non-payment or were not working.
ND: Since you slashed the bills can you say customers are now paying for the telephone bills?
CM: The write-off was in response to the harsh economic climate currently experienced by our clients. The debt relief was greatly appreciated and some clients have come forth to make payment plans to settle the debt they still owe TelOne. Clients have been reconnected so that they have access to our ADSL Broadband.
ND: NewsDay understands the number of landline users in the country is declining due to the emergence of mobile phones. Do you subscribe to this assumption?
CM: Not at all, the voice service is our major revenue stream. However, the growth of our voice subscriptions is lower than that of the mobile network. Efforts are being made to ensure that there continues to be an increase in demand for the landline. We also have a number of value added services that include call conferencing, call diversion, toll free. Tel One’s ADSL Broadband is also delivered through existing copper networks at superfast speeds.
The landline still continues to deliver the clearest crystal clear sound at the lowest tariffs. Our landline-to-landline tariff stands at five cents a minute and to the mobile networks 18 cents a minute. Communication should not cost an arm and a leg, so TelOne will indeed be around for a long time to serve the needs of corporates and business.
Landlines are still relevant for any serious business. Having a landline is an indication of solid address and traceable business reference.
ND: How many landlines do you have? How many of these are still operational?
CM: TelOne has over 300 000 operational landlines. Our capacity is just below 500 000.
ND: Since 2009, how many lines did you close due to non-payment?
CM: We have closed around 35 000 lines. Clients who have paid their bills can only have access to incoming calls only and can also have access to ADSL Broadband as it is on a prepaid platform.
ND: What are the major challenges of the parastatal at the moment?
CM: Our network has also been affected by frequent power cuts, cable thefts and vandalism. The liquidity crunch in the market also led to increased defaulters. The telecommunications industry is very capital intensive and sourcing funding to finance our projects has been a major challenge. Zimbabwe is also affected by the economic sanctions and this has made it difficult to access lines of credit.
ND: Have you managed to secure a partner to inject capital in your company?
CM: As for partnering with strategic investors, our shareholder, the Ministry of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services is handling that on our behalf.