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Thursday, Feb 20th

Zim’s Econet dramatically disconnects from Telecel

mobilephones

Subscribers of Zimbabwe’s largest mobile operator Econet are not going to be able to make phone calls to users of the country’s No. 2 operator Telecel as of Thursday.

This is according to a dramatic statement by Econet Wireless, which says the terms of its 20-year Zimbabwean telecoms licence -- which has been renewed on 10 July 2013 -- says a licence-holder must disconnect from non-licensed operators in the country.

The Zimbabwean government has not renewed Telecel’s telecoms licence owing to Telecel not complying with the country’s indigenisation law, which compels foreign firms to handover their majority shares to black Zimbabweans.

Telecel is majority owned by Egypt’s Orascom Telecom, which in turn is owned by Russia’s Vimpelcom.

Last week, Orascom reportedly sent a team to Zimbabwe in a bid to salvage its licence in that country. Top executives from Telecel have also previously said they are working to resolve the dispute with government.

But Econet, which says it has 8 million subscribers, has not held back from disconnecting from Telecel, which claims it is Zimbabwe’s second largest mobile operator with 2.5 million subscribers.

“Clause 5.2.2 of our licence requires us to interconnect only with licensed operators.
This paragraph derives from Section 61 of the Act, which allows a licensed operator to interconnect with another licensed operator,” Econet says in a statement.

“There is no obligation to interconnect with a provider of telecommunications services that is not validly licensed in terms of Section 37 of the Act.

“Telecel Zimbabwe is not a holder of a valid licence issued in terms of Section 37 of the Act,” Econet adds in the statement.

Econet goes on in its statement to allege that despite Telecel Zimbabwe being announced as the winner of a tender to operate a mobile telecommunications service in 1996, the award of the licence to Telecel Zimbabwe was declared to be “invalid” by a High Court judgment handed down on 31 December 1997.

“Telecel Zimbabwe appealed to the Supreme Court, but the appeal was never pursued. The High Court granted leave for the execution of its judgment pending appeal. That leave was never challenged in the Supreme Court. If Telecel Zimbabwe was subsequently issued with a licence, the issue of such a licence was in violation of the High Court Judgment, and of the Telecommunications legislation that applied at the time,” Econet continues.

Econet goes on to say that the Telecel Zimbabwe licence was subsequently validly terminated.

Regardless of debate about whether or not Telecel has had a valid licence in Zimbabwe, it has had a licence in the country that has nevertheless expired this year.

And Econet has said that this, therefore, has given it the right to disconnect from Telecel.

“Econet Wireless does not have any legal or moral obligation to interconnect with an unlicensed operator. In fact, we have a duty to disconnect such an operator,” Econet says.

“In the circumstances, Econet Wireless regrets to advise that we are obliged to disconnect Telecel from our network,” the telco adds.

Econet’s disconnection from Telecel comes after the latter telecoms firm on Wednesday complained about deteriorating call quality to Econet subscribers.

As of Wednesday, only 10% of mobile phone calls from subscribers on the country’s Telecel network to Econet Wireless numbers were successfully connecting, Telecel said in a statement.

Telecel added that this rapid deterioration in interconnection to Econet has fallen from a 90% successful termination rate to Econet prior to July 14.

However, this is not the first time that Econet has decided to cut interconnection with a rival telco.

In August last year, Econet announced that it would terminate all interconnect services with state owned telco, NetOne, effective immediately.

Econet went on to further explain that as of 31 July 2012 NetOne owed it approximately $20.4 million excluding interest.

The Zimbabwean telco stated that it would only reconnect with NetOne once it had received a substantial payment towards the debt.

But the Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) intervened and forced Econet to reconnect to NetOne pending the outcome of a court hearing on the matter.

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