PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s government last year suspended all mobile data promotions after the country was rocked by bouts of demonstrations orchestrated through social media, Parliament heard yesterday.
By VENERANDA LANGA
Econet chief executive officer, Douglas Mboweni, yesterday told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information and Communication Technology, chaired by Kuwadzana East MP, Nelson Chamisa (MDC-T), that telecommunications regulator, the Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), suspended promotions that were seen as enabling social media activism.
“In July 2016, the country experienced social disturbances and increases in social media activism, and it was during this time that Potraz legal director, Cecilia Nyamutsva, and Potraz chairperson, Ozias Bvute, called for a meeting about what was happening on social media,” he said.
Zimbabwe was rocked by demonstrations last July led by now-exiled cleric, Evan Mawarire, demanding an end to corruption, among other issues.
Econet, Mboweni said, had applied for an extension of their promotions, but had been rebuffed by Potraz.
The Econet boss said all operators then met to come up with a floor price to be implemented by January, which the country’s biggest mobile operator complied with, only to realise they had been isolated.
“We had raised the issue of lack of a level playing field and this is not the first time, as it has happened with the $137,5 million licence fees, which Econet has paid in full, while other operators have not paid,” Mboweni said.
Telecel chief executive officer, Angeline Vere, said after the Potraz directive to reduce data tariffs, they were the first to comply and implemented it on December 20, only to discover that other operators had not done so.
NetOne acting chief executive officer, Brian Mutandiro, said his company was against any price increase.
“We requested more time to communicate with our subscribers because we knew it was going to be detrimental to us. We were going to suffer because the OneFusion package had given us growth,” he told the committee.
Mutandiro said Econet was the one that advocated for tariff increases, but other networks felt their business models would be strained.
He said Potraz was concerned with Whatsapp’s impact on Zimbabweans “as it was now a common threat”.