Internet slows to crawl after unpaid debts

Internet traffic in Zimbabwe has come close to a standstill after an international satellite firm slashed its bandwidth because the cash-starved government failed to pay the bill.

Government-owned TelOne, which owns the country’s main satellite Internet link, said satell

ite firm Intelsat had cut its international bandwidth because it failed to pay the $700,000 fee.

“The link is slow because they reduced the megabits on our satellite link until the payment is made,” TelOne spokesman Phill Chingwaru told Reuters on Wednesday.

“We have approached the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe for foreign currency and they are working on that, but meanwhile there would be delays in browsing because of the partial cut-off.”

President Robert Mugabe’s government is grappling with an eight-year recession, the world’s highest inflation rate of 1,200 percent, shortages of foreign currency, food, fuel, and unemployment above 70 percent.

Zimbabwe’s foreign currency shortages have worsened after a fall-out with international donors over policy differences, such as Harare’s seizure of white-owned farms for blacks.

“It is a nightmare because of the congestion and we are getting calls from desperate clients, some of them who can’t even access the Internet,” said an official from a private ISP, which uses TelOne’s satellite link.

The Zimbabwe Internet Service Providers Association (ZISPA) said on its website TelOne’s connection had been severed, causing an “almost collapse” of the Internet in the country. It said ZISPA would lobby the government to help it pay the debt.

Chingwaru said TelOne had asked the government for permission to charge big firms in foreign currency to avoid being cut off in the future.

He said TelOne had meanwhile ventured into farming by contracting tobacco and cotton farmers to produce crops for export, in a bid to generate foreign currency. Chingwaru said TelOne would get $12 million from the recent tobacco selling season.

Mugabe accuses former colonial power Britain of leading a Western campaign of economic sabotage. — Reuter