POSTAL and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Potraz) director-general Gift Machengete was yesterday quizzed in Parliament on why operators hiked data charges at a time when consumers are suffering from a harsh economic environment.
Machengete appeared before the Charlton Hwende-led Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Information Communication Technology when MPs asked him to explain what necessitated the increase and whether airtime was affordable in Zimbabwe compared to other countries in the Sadc region.
He told Parliament that actually, the prices of data had not gone up and still remains at the threshold of six cents per megabyte that was effected last year after representatives from the operators approached the regulatory body trying to increase the tariffs by as much as 150%.
The regulatory body denied them and so what the operators did was review the generous promotions and bundled services they were offering to consumers as competition was intensifying.
"On cost of data compared to Sadc countries - there has been a lot of talk that tariffs in Zimbabwe reached the highest levels in the world and some position papers written by experts were not correct and they were pushing their own agendas," Machengete said.
"In United States dollars - in South Africa right now bundle mobile data is at one cent per megabyte and $11 per gigabyte, Lesotho is two cents, Malawi four cents, Eswatini five cents, Botswana nine cents, Mozambique is the most expensive at 13 cents and Zimbabwe is at two cents per megabyte and so we are comparable in US$ terms in terms of cost of data and the only problem is affordability, because salaries of our people have not gone up," he said.
He said Zimbabwe was ahead in terms of 2G and 3G technology, but was lagging behind in LTE technology needed for 4G and 5G because of difficulties in getting investors for it. MPs asked him to explain why as a regulator they failed to stop the tariff increases, because cellular companies were milking consumers.
"Actually, people thought that data was cheap because in the past mobile operators were giving promotions and competing and now that the promotions have ended people think that it is expensive. We need to look at tariffs and affordability in terms of salaries," the Potraz boss said.
Machengete said in 2017, Econet recorded a $132 million profit after tax, while TelOne had a loss of $7 million, NetOne a loss of $57 million, Telecel a loss of $18,2 million.
He said mobile operators experienced a 23,1% increase in costs, considering salaries, rentals, fuel and other expenses.