ZIMBABWE'S telecommunication companies did not increase prices for out of bundle services but only revised the promotions they were offering, the regulator has said.
This comes after there was a public uproar from subscribers across the country when telecommunication firms — Econet, Telecel and NetOne — last month revised data prices for promotional packages.
The country has been experiencing acute price hikes for the past three months due to devaluation of local currencies and foreign currency shortages.
Postal and Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe director general Gift Machengete said operators were forced to rationalise and review promotions due to increased financial pressure in the economy.
"I am aware that there is an outcry among consumers following this development," he told people attending the launch of a shared base station in Zhombe at the weekend.
"However, it is important to note that, after the recent increases, all three networks are offering bundled data of between two and four cents per megabyte (MB), which is the approved ceiling of six cents per MB that became effective on April 1, 2019."
Machengete noted that in United States dollar terms, Zimbabwean tariffs, contrary to general perception, compare favourably with regional countries.
Statistics from the Communications Regulatory Authority of Southern Africa (Crasa), Zimbabwe, whose one gigabyte (Gig) of data costs US$20, is only second to South Africa where one Gig costs US$11.
Lesotho comes on the third position at US$22 for a Gig followed by Malawi at US$43 for the same amount of data. Swaziland closely follows the pack at US$56 while Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique close the list at US$63, US$93 and US$130 respectively.
"Be that as it may, we appreciate the outcry over the increases in bundled data tariffs as they are now beyond the reach of many and we sympathise with consumers," Machengete said.
"In this regard, the authority will continue exploring ways of making tariffs more affordable including ensuring improved network efficiencies and lobbying government to reduce taxes on airtime, among other strategies," he added.
In its regulatory notice one of 2019, Potraz was upfront with operators and refused pressures to increase data tariffs beyond the approved threshold.
However, faced with market shock and the need for survival under a harsh economic environment, mobile network operators complied with the regulatory notice but revised their bundled promotions. This led to the reduction of the generous offers and tariffs, which operators had been using to lure subscribers.
Economic analysts believe that inasmuch as the revision of promotions has put data usage beyond the reach of many due to the effects of runaway inflation, operators also have an obligation to keep their businesses running.
"We should face the actual challenge it's the economy that we need to fix. Customers must afford but we also need companies to survive so as to keep providing us a service," said an analysts with a local financial institution.
Meanwhile, ICT deputy minister Jerifan Muswere said it was important for Potraz to focus on the deployment of Multi Operator Radio Access Network (Moran) base stations in marginalised areas to ensure that all citizens have access to the Internet.
A Moran base station allows all mobile networks to share one tower transporting the same signal to last mile, under infrastructure sharing initiative driven by government via Universal Services Funds.
"The world is becoming more and more connected. If we are to bridge the existing gaps and allow rural communities such as Dendera to participate in the national and global economy, it is imperative that all the hitherto unconnected communities are brought online," said Muswere, who was guest of honour at the event.
"That way, Zimbabwe would not keep losing out on the connectivity dividend and the potential socio-economic benefits of a connected society."
Muswere noted that the increased availability and accessibility of information and communication technology (ICT) services to communities results in social inclusion and economic development.
"The availability of ICT infrastructure in rural communities such as Dendera opens the door for the provision of other services such as e-agriculture, telemedicine, e-learning and e-government," he said.