Shift in stance, or move to appease discontent?

Starlink costs US$109 per month for 200Mbps, unlimited download speed, which would drop to below US$50 should the government grant it a licence.

BASED on recent developments, it appears the Zimbabwean government may be re-evaluating its stance on Starlink, a satellite internet service provider owned by SpaceX.

This comes after months of Starlink operating in the country through its "global roaming feature", which allows users to access the internet service from neighbouring countries where it is officially licenced.

According to Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) director general Gift Machengete, Starlink's presence could "improve where our telecommunication operators cannot reach".

This statement suggests a potential thawing in the government's attitude towards Starlink, which has been operating in the country without a licence.

Starlink's global roaming feature has allowed users in Zimbabwe to access fast and reliable internet, albeit unofficially.

This has likely put pressure on the government to reconsider its stance, as the demand for quality internet services continues to grow.

The development raises questions about the government's willingness to embrace innovative technologies and its commitment to improving the country's digital infrastructure. 

If Zimbabwe were to officially licence Starlink, it could potentially bridge the digital divide and provide internet access to underserved areas.

“It is true, they have applied, and that is the correct position. We are still processing the licence. It is not like an event, it’s a process so we are processing the licence,” Machengete told the Independent.

“There are issues that they have to understand before we come to issue a licence. So, it’s a process, and we are processing that licence. Well, Starlink is a satellite company.

“It means it will improve where our telecommunication operators cannot reach, so they can reach those areas. So, obviously, it is a technology that is meant to improve our connectivity. We are in the process of assessing the licence, that type of information would not be proper for me to share with you.”

A source familiar with the matter said the change in how Starlink is viewed is being driven by some very senior members in the ruling Zanu PF party and the government.

“There is a push from the bigwigs to get Starlink operating in the country. Many of them are already using the service. Probably what is happening now is that most want to see how they can profit off the new service,” the source said.

However, when asked about this, the Potraz director general dismissed the assertion and the notion that the authority was deliberately delaying giving Starlink a licence.

“The government and Potraz did not block Starlink from coming. At that time, Starlink had not applied so you can't say that to someone, who has not yet applied,” he said.

The change in tune from Potraz to process Starlink’s papers in Zimbabwe comes as no surprise.

For example, for its top package, TelOne is charging US$300 for its Intense Extra Package that offers speeds of up 50 megabytes per second with unlimited downloads.

Liquid Home’s top package, Fibronix Power Pack unlimited downloads costs US$439.

Starlink costs US$109 per month for 200Mbps, unlimited download speed, which would drop to below US$50 should the government grant it a licence.

“The Zimbabwean consumers continue to face a number of challenges as they access telecommunication services in Zimbabwe. These challenges cut across all the mobile telecommunication service providers,” Consumer Protection Commission research and public affairs manager Kudakwashe Mudereri said.

“The challenges include but are not limited to poor network services, especially in the remote parts of the country, failure by service providers to roll over data, which would not have been used due to non-availability of network, data disappearance, among others.

“The Consumer Protection Commission, therefore, welcomes any move to increase the number of service providers in the country, as this brings in more competition and better services to consumers.”

He urged service providers not to take consumers for granted.

In a paper explaining the importance of Starlink, Zimbabwe Information & Communication Technology chairperson Jacob Mutisi said it was cheaper and more affordable.

“Starlink has the potential to bridge the digital divide by extending high-speed internet access to remote and underserved regions of Zimbabwe,” he said.

“This will enable residents in rural areas to access online education, telecommuting opportunities, and essential services, thereby promoting inclusivity and equal opportunity.”

Related Topics