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Subscribers shoot down Potraz request

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Mobile subscribers have shot down a request by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) for mobile operators to submit proposals on tariffs for over the top (OTT) voice calls.

BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA

This comes as Potraz invited mobile operators to submit proposals on a premium tariff to be charged on data used for OTT voice calls.

OTT is whereby a telecommunications operator delivers one or more services across an IP network.

WhatsApp is the most used OTT voice calling application in the country.

In an online poll conducted on NewsDay’s Facebook page, mobile subscribers voiced their frustrations at Potraz.

“It is not as if these calls are not being charged already. You just do not make a call out of the blue you need to have data, so why charge them separately as if they are not being charged enough already,” a Facebook user by the name Lance said.

Michael Chibondo said: “I am not very sure, but something tells me it is an illegal move. What contracts does Potraz have with Facebook and WhatsApp is my concern at this moment?”

Aaron Gwadzemba said the plan showed that Potraz was not conversant with technology. “You need internet for VOIP and we pay for data, which is excruciatingly expensive in Zimbabwe,” he said.

Maclay Sithole said Potraz was fighting innovation and technology.

“Good luck. Another app will just come. They’ll forever play catch-up,” he said.

Others accused the government of trying to extort money from subscribers to pay civil servants’ bonuses. The proposed tariff is on top of government’s plans to institute a 5c levy on every $1 of airtime and mobile data sold under a plan to support the health sector.

Potraz recently introduced new floor prices, which reduced voice calls to 12 cents per minute from a previous of 16 cents, while one megabyte of data now costs 2 cents.

The move to separate charges on OTT voice calls comes at a time telecoms firms have experienced a decline in voice revenue on a continual quarterly basis.

In Potraz’s 2016 third quarter report, voice calls declined by 3,6% to 19 158 891,48 hours from 19 876 199,5 hours in the previous quarter. Comparatively, mobile data usage for the first nine months of 2016 was 5 526,3 terabyte (TB) exceeding 3 622,9TB used in 2015 indicating “demand for internet”.

The country’s three big telecom operators Econet, NetOne and Telecel are on record complaining about loss of revenue to OTT voice calling.

Social media expert, Thomas Chizhanje said tariffs associated with social media calls should just be kept as data charges.

“I think this move is not well thought out and more research should be done by Potraz because when a customer buys data he or she expects that data to perform all data-based services.

Separating tariffs of data services may lead to confusion and bad customer service,” he said.

Data is already highly-priced, with Zimbabwe placed as the third most expensive country in Africa in terms of data after South Sudan and Swaziland, according to Research ICT Africa’s 2016 third quarter report.

Even with the new reduced data costs, the country still remains the third most expensive.

The outcry from subscribers come as mobile operators are mum on their response to Potraz’s request.

In emailed responses to NewsDay Econet spokesperson, Lovemore Nyatsine said they had “noted” the request by Potraz.
“Econet has noted the request by Potraz and it will consult with the regulator on the proposals. It would, therefore, not be prudent for the company to comment on the issue you raise,” he said last week.

Telecel CEO, Angeline Vere declined to comment on the matter, while calls to NetOne acting CEO, Brian Mutandiro went unanswered.

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