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Showdown looms in Zimbabwe over data tariffs

Showdown looms in Zimbabwe over data tariffs.

A war of words has erupted between Zimbabwe's government and private internet service providers over internet tariffs, which the state telecoms regulator has already said will not be lowered - but which the ICT minister says should be reduced.

Now, executives in the private telecoms industry say sentiments by ICT Minister, Supa Mandiwanzira on Thursday last week are aimed at enforcing a tariff cut.

Earlier this year, the government ordered mobile companies to reduce voice tariffs from around 23 cents a minute to the current rate of 16 cents per minute for cross network calls.

Mandiwanzira said at the rebranding launch for state run fixed telecommunications services provider and internet company, TelOne, at the end of last week that data tariffs should go down. This was after TelOne had unveiled a $36 tariff for a 20GB package riding on connection speeds of 5 Mbps.

Two corporate executives with private telecom companies in Zimbabwe said on Monday that tariffing for data services was in line with investment undertaken by private companies and also factored in running costs and reliability of connectivity.

"The TelOne data tariffs are now lower by more than 60% compared to what other players in the data service provision sector are offering. For starters, they are a state run company and are not burdened by investment costs as much as private companies are," said one a telecom executive.

Mandiwanzira has called for lower data tariffs. However, the two telecom industry executives who spoke to ITWeb Africa on Monday, said calling for lower tariffs would amount to price controls by the state as the telecom industry regulator has already said it will not force a reduction in data tariffs for the near future.

"In the end it boils down to reliability of services, uptime and connection speeds. Customers will inevitably join the service provider with the most reliable service. We have a lot of service providers offering unlimited accessibility for below $50 per month but most have been complaining of frequent disruption in connectivity and slow connection speeds," said the other executive, who did not want to be named.

Mandiwanzira had said: "If TelOne is able to sell its Wi-Fi services at 90% less, why are we paying all the money we do with other service providers?"

Econet charges $1 for 10MB on its broadband service,while ZOL charges $39 for 15Gb at 5mbps. Chipo Mtasa, the managing director of TelOne says her company – which has also launched hotspots in the capital, Harare under a Fibre to the Home Scheme – is geared to "provide low cost internet access to all with mobile devices".

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