Infrastructure sharing: Govt, Econet on a collision course

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GOVERNMENT is on a collision course with the country’s biggest mobile network operator, Econet Wireless, over compulsory telecommunications infrastructure sharing.

Hazel Ndebele

On Tuesday this week, Information, Communication and Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira pulled a shocker on popular social media platform Twitter when he announced that Econet, which has been resisting infrastructure sharing, was in fact the initiator of the initiative.

“You may also be pleased to know that first approach to government on the need to share was from Econet,” reads Mandiwanzira’s tweet.

Mandiwanzira was responding to a tweet by local British-based journalist Lance Guma whose Twitter handle is @LanceGuma who had asked: “Should telecoms companies in Zimbabwe be forced to share infrastructure like what minister Mandiwanzira is advocating.”

The ICT minister then sought to clarify government’s position by saying: “No one is being forced. Government has been clear that those who want out must stay out. But they should not cry foul when the train leaves them behind. All risks considered, all want in.”

The tweet, however, contradicts Econet’s recent press statement clarifying its position on infrastructure sharing. In the statement, Econet states that it is of the view thas it was unfair to have infrastructure sharing where one party does not have the infrastructure the other needs.

Asked to comment on Mandiwanzira’s tweet on its reported proposal to government on infrastructure sharing, Econet, in an e-mailed response on Wednesday, said: “Econet Wireless continues to engage with the relevant stakeholders on the issue and is therefore unable to provide any material updates at present.”

Mandiwanzira could not be reached for comment as his mobile went unanswered, and later became unreachable.
In its statement on March 29, Econet said: “Our understanding of infrastructure sharing entails parties who have invested in infrastructure in different geographic areas entering into arrangements to share their respective infrastructure on an equitable and reciprocal basis to avoid infrastructure duplication.

“Econet is the youngest mobile operator, having entered the market when others already had a head start. We had to raise funding through various channels, including the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, to develop our own network to the level where we now hold approximately 80% of the telecommunications infrastructure in the market.

“The tone that the current debate on infrastructure sharing has taken appears aimed at compelling Econet Wireless to make its infrastructure available for the use of others who chose other investment priorities.”

ICT specialists believe that if approached correctly, infrastructure sharing could help develop the country as it has helped other nations globally develop.

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