Zimbabwe’s mobile phone regulator orders Econet to reverse tariff cuts


HARARE — Zimbabwe’s mobile phone regulator, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), has waded into the continuing mobile phone war and on Tuesday ordered Econet Wireless to reverse the tariff cuts it launched last week.

Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, the largest mobile phone operator in Zimbabwe with 8-million subscribers, slashed prices by 60% last week, offering calls at 10 US cents a minute.

Potraz in a statement ordered Econet Wireless to stop offering its customers the 10c a minute tariffs and to revert to the old 25c charge.

It is understood from officials at Econet that Potraz threatened to penalise Econet if it was still offering its customers the discounted rates by Friday.

In its response, Econet questioned the sincerity of the telecommunications regulator in levelling the playing field. It said Potraz had turned a “blind eye” to the promotions being run by its second-largest rival, Telecel Zimbabwe, which has more than 2.6-million subscribers.

“Even when other operators violated key conditions of their licence, we did not see any such threats being made. Now when we take steps to deliver affordable services to our own customers, we are barred. This leaves us wondering just how level our playing field really is,” read part of the Econet statement.

Tensions have been running high in Zimbabwe’s telecommunications industry following Telecel Zimbabwe’s noncompliance with the country’s indigenisation laws.

The government in July refused to renew Telecel’s licence until it sorted out its shareholding structure.

Econet then cut off calls to Telecel on the grounds that it had an “obligation” to do so until Telecel obtained a licence from Potraz.

A nephew of President Robert Mugabe, Patrick Zhuwao, is understood to have been involved in behind-the-scenes manoeuvres to have Telecel’s licence renewed last week.

Econet said its 10c promotion had been well received by the public, with usage having risen sharply since the tariff came into effect.

It claimed that Potraz’s order would disadvantage millions of Econet customers who were already enjoying the heavily discounted call charges on Econet and to other networks.

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