THE Minister of Information Communication Technology, Nelson Chamisa, yesterday ordered TelOne to stop disconnecting fixed telephone lines for clients who have failed to pay bills he said were exorbitant.
Chamisa said he concurred with complaints made that the charges were beyond the reach of many and said his ministry had written to the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Potraz) advising it to revise downwards the telephone charges.
â€œWe have told TelOne not to disconnect telephones and they have to comply,â€ Chamisa told journalists in the capital. â€œWe have also advised Potraz of the latest development.â€
He said his ministry was working with Potraz and TelOne to â€œinvestigate the exorbitant bills and the billing trendâ€.
â€œPotraz is currently reviewing the tariffs. By July 1 we would have announced new tariffs, which would definitely be lower. All tariffs should be at par with what the region is charging,â€ Chamisa said.
He said the country’s telecommunications tariffs were the highest in the region.
Most fixed phone clients have expressed dismay on the charges, which in some cases are way beyond their salaries.
TelOne started disconnecting customers last month after clients declined to settle bills arguing that the company was charging unreasonably high tariffs that were based on estimates.
The clients also maintained that the authority was billing them in foreign currency backdated to January, whereas TelOne was only granted permission to trade in foreign currency on February 2 by the Reserve Bank.
According to TelOne, average local telephone usage per month at a household level is 200 units, which translates to 600 minutes.
Assuming one was calling a cellphone at the local rate of US$0,19 a minute, the average bill should be US$96. Calling another landline phone costs US$0,07.
Clients are however said to be receiving bills that are between US$300 and US$400.
A Senior Bulawayo High Court judge, Justice Maphios Cheda, last Friday granted a provisional order to 27 private companies that had approached the court arguing that tariffs charged by the parastatal were unrealistic and should have their phones reconnected.
Earlier this week, TelOne acting public relations executive Collin Welbesi insisted that his company was
authorised to charge in foreign currency in January.
He said the January and February bills were reduced by 30% in an effort to cushion customers.
â€œThe bills that our customers are receiving are not estimated bills but are based on actual usage,â€ Welbesi said in a statement. â€œActing in the public interest and faced with the need to strike a balance between affordability of service and our viability, the regulator reduced our tariff from US$0,10 a minute to US$0,07 a minute with effect from March 15 2009. However, TelOne backdated this tariff reduction to March 1 2009 for the benefit of our customers.â€
Meanwhile, Chamisa said the term of the Zimpost board had expired and his ministry was working on appointing a new one soon. â€“â€“ Staff Writer.