Mobile operators get free frequencies

By Staff reporter | 10 May 2020 at 20:24hrs
THE Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) has allocated the country's three mobile network operators free frequencies until the end of the year as part of its thrust to ensure affordable data to consumers in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Potraz director-general Dr Gift Kallisto Machengete said the authority has granted Econet, Netone and Telecel free spectrum to enable the mobile operators to increase their capacities of offering data to consumers in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"During the Covid–19 Potraz will be assigning additional 3G (Third Generation Network) and LTE (Long Term Evolution) spectrum for free to cater for additional data demand. The authority has granted the spectrum up to December 2020 to three mobile operators to enable them to increase the capacity of their data offering," he said.

The latest development comes at a time when Econet last week raised data price by 225 percent. The latest hikes in data costs have rekindled debate about the affordability of Internet access in Zimbabwe, especially in an environment where income and salaries have remained static.

However, Dr Machengete, said Econet was still within the threshold of 30 cents per megabyte set by the regulator as the company had been charging discounted bundles all along.

"Potraz also continues to regulate tariffs for data or internet using the cost-based pricing principle. This means only the costs incurred to provide the service are used to determine the tariff thresholds within which operators set tariffs. This is meant to balance the need to ensure service affordability while at the same time ensuring the survival of operators and at the same time giving operators the flexibility to compete on price offerings as manifested in their discounted bundle offerings," he said.

Dr Machengete said the Government was working on utilisation of the Zimbabwe Academic and Research Network (ZARNet)'s low cost broadband connectivity to facilitate online learning at schools.

"The Ministry of Information Communication Technologies, Postal and Courier Services also has ZARNet, which has the sole responsibility of providing high speed and low-cost broadband connectivity to the educational sector that includes schools and other academic institutions with funding from the Universal Service Fund. This will help towards facilitating online education," he said.

Potraz has also granted a free licence to Zimbabwe Research and Education Network (Zimren) which is a consortium of tertiary institutions for the pooled sourcing of internet connectivity and distribution to the various tertiary institutions, which is aimed at reducing the cost of internet for tertiary institutions for the benefit of students.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) expert Mr Prosper Mutswiri said the allocation of free spectrum by Potraz to operators would aid the latter's capacities to provide reliable and affordable data to customers.

"It's an exciting and welcome development by the regulator as this will aid operators' capacities to provide reliable and affordable data to customers. It also comes in the wake of the coronavirus where customers are experiencing reduced disposable income and at the same time, they want to do business and so much online and digitally. Now this move basically means there is more for less for the customers. Some base stations were now congested due to increased demand and the move have relieved that pain," he said.

Mr Mutswiri further said with most schools and companies increasing their online presence there was a need for mobile network operators to enhance their bandwidth to meet the ever-increasing demand for such applications.

"Operators had to increase their capacities on either 3G network or LTE network, which was going to come at a cost, likely to increase operators' fixed costs thereby impacting their pricing structure. Potraz have decided to step into the shoes of the operator and the customer and this will go a long way in addressing all sectors of the economy's current pains," he said.

National Consumer Rights Association (Nacora) advocacy advisor, Mr Effie Ncube said the move by Potraz was a welcome development but there was a need to ensure that operators avail data at affordable charges.

"This is a tremendously important and a welcome development for millions of Zimbabweans who are relying on data to get information particularly at this most trying time when we are faced with a global pandemic in Covid-19. If only the three mobile service providers translate that to cheaper voice call and data prices, we definitely need that and therefore what Potraz has done and the steps it has taken are to be welcomed by every person," he said.



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