Zimbabwe’s Minister of Information Communication Technology and Cyber Security, Supa Mandiwanzira, has said government is undertaking research to ascertain the real cost of data in the country following an outcry from users that operators were fleecing their clients through exorbitant charges.
The move to undertake the research follows a recent report by South Africa’s Independent Communications Authority (ICASA) which ranked Zimbabwe as having the second most expensive data tariffs in the region, after Botswana.
In an interview, Mandiwanzira said the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) was in the process of undertaking a comprehensive survey with a view to striking an amicable deal with operators to review their data tariffs.
“Following a huge outcry by consumers over the cost of data, Potraz has been carrying out a survey to understand the real cost of data in the country because there have been quite some genuine concerns that the operators are over charging and they are also misrepresenting the cost of their charges,” Mandiwanzira said.
Mandiwanzira said government was currently in a gridlock with operators who were insisting that the high tariffs were justified.
“Service operators continue to insist that they the tariffs are reasonable yet compared to other countries, Zimbabwe ranks among the highest,” said Mandiwanzira.
The report by ICASA analysed tariffs offered by service providers in Zimbabwe and in the region, zeroing in on the prices of the 500MB, 1GB and 2GB data bundles in each country.
The ICASA report states that in the category of 1GB data basket, Zimbabwe has the most expensive mobile data tariffs with 1GB (1gigabyte) and 2GB (2gigabyte) of data costing US$30 and US$50 respectively.
Results of the ICASA report were also in tandem with the outcomes of another survey undertaken by the Cape Town-based Research Information Communications and Technology Africa (RIA) which also revealed that Zimbabwe’s price for 1GB of data increased by 50 percent from US$20 last year to US$30 by the end of the last quarter in 2017.
Attempts by Potraz to introduce a floor price for all operators for internet charges to align with region and international data trends was received with mixed emotions by members of the public and operators.
Potraz had set traditional voice services at 12 US cents per minute and data at 2 US cents per megabyte.
A floor price is a government or group imposed price control or limit on how low a price can be charged for a product.
The thinking behind the introduction of the floor prices was meant to address the apparent mismatch between the rate of growth in data traffic and data revenues to ensure the viability of operators.
Telecommunication experts say the fact that Zimbabwe has the most expensive data in the region can be attributed to numerous factors such as economic instabilities and having very few telecommunications service providers operating in a low population country compared to countries like South Africa.
Compared to South Africa, Zimbabwe has three major service providers - Econet, Telecel and NetOne -- aiming to make enough profit out of a population of around 16 million.
South Africa has a population of around 55,91 million people with four major internet providers - MTN, Vodacom, Cell C and Telkom, among others.
The ICASA report states that South Africa mobile tariffs are below average price of all prices in the region.
“SA does not have the most expensive prepaid data bundle prices for 500MB, 1GB and 2MB in the SADC region. It is also not the cheapest, however, its prices are below the average price of all the SADC prices across the category,” reads part of the ICASA report.
South Africa’s most expensive 1GB of data is priced at $12.04 and is relatively lower than neighbouring Swaziland where data costs $20.02.
The DRC has the cheapest mobile data tariffs across all three categories, with data costing only US$2.38 followed by Mozambique which charges only US$2.70 per 1GB.
Malawi and Namibia charge US$6.7 and US$7.6 per 1GB of data respectively.
The ICASA report is part of the comprehensive study that the South African regulatory company is undertaking as part of its regulatory initiatives towards addressing data prices following the #DataMustFall Campaign in that country last year.
Cost of data per 1 Gigabite in some SADC countries
DR Congo US$2.38
South Africa US$12.04