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Mobile operators wait for govt signal

Zimbabwe’s mobile telephone operators are still waiting for government’s guidance on how they should effect a 5c levy on every $1 of airtime and mobile data sold under a plan to support the health sector.

BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA

In his 2017 national budget presentation, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa introduced the levy under the theme; Talk-Surf and Save a Life effective January 1 2017.

Chinamasa said resources raised through the levy would be ring-fenced for the purchase of drugs and equipment for public hospitals and clinics.

NetOne acting CEO Brian Mutandiro told Standardbusiness last week that the mobile operator would wait for guidance from the Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) on how the levy would be implemented.

“It just means we have to work harder to stimulate usage. What we have to do is focus on growing the business,” he said.

“The regulatory environment and tariffs is the preserve of Potraz and government. Our strength is to just continue to excite the market, which is what we are doing now.”

He said it was difficult to ascertain how their margins would be affected due to a number of economic factors that come into play.

“Our job is to continue to improve our service, customer experience, launch more products, innovate and excite customers,” Mutandiro said.

“There are so many areas where there is low connectivity in Zimbabwe so if we focus on that, I would not be too worried about pricing; if we create demand and fill that demand by making sure we continue to provide capacity.”

Zimbabwe’s active mobile subscribers are split between the country’s three major mobile telecommunication companies.

Potraz reported in its half year report that Econet had the largest number of subscribers, with 6 714 832, NetOne (4 512 359) and Telecel with 1 783 682 subscribers.

However, voice calls have been on a steady decline with the growth of social media applications such as WhatsApp, Viber, Skype and Facebook Messenger taking its stead.

In the third quarter report, Potraz said data grew by 16,1% to 2 157,9 terabytes (TB) from 1 857,9TB in the previous quarter.

During the period, voice calls declined by 3,6% to 19 158 891,48 hours from 19 876 199,5 hours in the previous quarter, showing people were moving away from traditional means of communication.

In terms of data, NetOne charges 50 cents to subscribers for 50 MB of data while $1 gets 300 MB daily bundles or 150 MB weekly. For $5, a subscriber can buy 5GB worth of daily data.

NetOne to NetOne calls cost 15 cents a minute while calls to other local networks are 16,1 cents a minute.

The same off-net rate would also apply to calls made to voice over internet protocol networks such as Africom mobile users.

In emailed responses to Standardbusiness, Telecel CEO Angeline Vere echoed Mutandiro’s views, saying “until we have been given a precise position from the government and the regulator, we cannot outline our own position”.

Telecel to Telecel calls as well as to other mobile networks costs 16 cents per minute. In terms of voice calls, Econet also charges the same as Telecel.

For data bundles, Econet charges 50 cents for 50MB, $1 for 250MB, $2 for 1GB and $3 for 2GB in daily data bundles.

Experts say mobile networks were already losing revenue in voice calls and would most likely push the health levy to their subscribers who have remained silent thus far waiting to be governed by Potraz.

Analysts say the health levy would force mobile subscribers to continue to rely on social media applications going forward, abandoning voice calls.

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