HomeBusiness DigestGovt mulls hefty fines

Govt mulls hefty fines

Mobile network operators under fire…

The Zimbabwean government is mulling introducing punitive measures such as hefty fines for mobile network operators that provide shoddy services and fail to offer the full value of subscribers’ account balances, a top government official has said.

By Taurai Mangudhla

ICT minister Supa Mandiwanzira
ICT minister Supa Mandiwanzira

Currently, government is capacitating telecoms regulator Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) with adequate technology and relevant skills to monitor the quality of services by networks, ICT minister Supa Mandiwanzira said in an interview with a local radio station this week.

This comes amid concerns, particularly from Econet Wireless subscribers, that their account balances are “disappearing” even before they are utilised.

“Calls drop and you still have to reconnect and you get charged, people reload their accounts with data and its gone before they even use it,” Mandiwanzira said. “There is abuse of the consumer by the players and the regulator is watching and we are saying that attitude is changing.

“It is the responsibility of all mobile networks to offer quality services which must be measurable. Potraz must measure it and if the quality is not good they must pay penalties. There are many things that must happen at Potraz and we are pushing that it happens.”

Mandiwanzira said complaints about poor services were rampant among consumers, hence the need for government to act.

“For many years, Potraz has operated without a consumer services division and we have now said to Potraz we need a directorate responsible for consumer protection as matter of urgency to make sure concerns being raised by subscribers are attended to. From where we are sitting we can see that the mobile networks are getting away with murder and we need to stop that practice,” he said.

Mandiwanzira also said consumers were being overcharged for services compared to their regional counterparts.
“The complaints that are coming from consumers are justified. I have questioned operators to say how do you justify the prices of mobile data in this country, it’s unreasonable, the prices are just unreasonable. I have a friend who was in Malawi and was comparing our costs and the costs in Malawi. We are paying 10 times more for the same data than what is being paid in Malawi, but we are both landlocked countries and our bandwidth capacity is coming via other countries,” the ICT minister said.

Responding to businessdigest, Econet said its charges are based on a formula that is approved by the regulator to whom this question can be directed for further clarification or comment. Potraz had not responded to queries at the time of going to print.

Responding to allegations that airtime balances vanish even before they are used, Econet said it was educating its customers on how to save data.

“On the issue of airtime disappearing, some of our customers use smartphones which require constant communication with the internet for software updates for the devices’ operating system as well as for applications. If a client does not disable automatic updates, any available data will be used for these updates, and once exhausted, the updates switch over to out of bundle credit which can use up existing voice credit,” said Econet.

“In order to save on data, we are educating our clients to disable automatic updates, and only use those that they think are necessary. In addition, credit may also ‘disappear’ when the client intentionally subscribes to various content services. We are advising our customers to visit any of our Econet Shops for assistance on how to de-activate background services or use settings on their phones to deactivate these services,” added Econet Wireless.

Questions sent to NetOne and Telecel had not been responded to at the time of going to press.

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