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Potraz cracks whip on mobile phone firms

By Leonard Ncube VICTORIA FALLS – The government will take action against mobile phone operators who are “abusing” subscribers by overchargi...

By Leonard Ncube
VICTORIA FALLS – The government will take action against mobile phone operators who are “abusing” subscribers by overcharging them on voice calls and “unsanctioned” mobile adverts, a Cabinet Minister said yesterday.

Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister, Supa Mandiwanzira, told reporters soon after officially closing the 13th Innovation Africa Digital Summit in Victoria Falls that government was inundated with complaints from subscribers about unscrupulous billing by mobile phone operators.
Minister of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services, Supa Mandiwanzira
He said the government had instructed the regulating authority, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulating Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), to flex its muscles and “whip” the mobile phone operators into line.

There have been complaints by mobile phone users, especially Econet subscribers, that recharge airtime is consumed even without making any calls.

Subscribers also expressed concern about mobile advertising, accusing mobile phone companies of sending adverts without clients’ consent and going on to bill them.

Mandiwanzira said this would soon be a thing of the past.

“We as government, have insisted on the regulator to begin enforcing some rules on the operators. We have received a lot of complaints from subscribers who alleged they are being abused by mobile operators who over-bill them for little service.

“The same operators push advertising on handsets without the permission of their subscribers which is very wrong. Consumers should be consulted before they (companies) send these adverts to them. We have told the regulator to start acting on this abuse of subscribers.

“We don’t believe it is right to abuse the consumer. The fact that the handset is his or hers, buys airtime with his or her own money, means that they should be respected.

“Nobody puts an advert in a newspaper without paying for it or worse still go on to charge the newspaper for that. In that vein, the same phone is also a medium and the owner cannot be charged for being a medium for the advert which he or she did not agree to have in the phone. That’s not acceptable,” he said.

Mandiwanzira said there were legal statutes which Potraz would use to crack the whip on the errant service providers.

The Zimbabwean telecoms industry has been affected by individualism as service providers resisted sharing infrastructure. The IAD summit discussed the infrastructure challenges, among others.

Mandiwanzira said ICT development would never be a success without operators working together. He said it had been proven through research globally that sharing infrastructure reduces costs of telecommunication by 30 percent.

“In line with the concept of this conference, we can’t afford to have each company displaying its own infrastructure. Sharing reduces the cost of investment and cost of service and we’re encouraging operators to seriously consider this,” said the Minister.

He said Potraz was in the process of carrying out an industry-based consultation on the matter.

“The government is for the idea of sharing infrastructure because that saves hard currency and would afford consumers cheap services.

An educational package, e-Nhava was officially launched by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Wednesday.

He described it as a welcome home-grown idea to develop e-commerce and e-learning.

The e-Nhava concept was developed by the Zimbabwe Academic Research Network (Zarnet), a local internet service provider, as a facility to help students plan their studies. The concept also helps students enrol at learning institutions including conducting mobile transactions. Teachers would also be able to deliver or trace their learners through the facility. The facility uses wristbands or devices such as cellphone handsets.

On the Telecel impasse, Mandiwanzira said “the wheels of justice are in motion.”

The minister threatened to close the mobile operator for flouting empowerment laws two months ago.

Earlier on while officially closing the summit, Mandiwanzira said there was a need for cooperation between governments, service providers and ICT companies.

More than 500 delegates from 38 countries, 24 of them from Africa, attended the three-day summit held under the theme “Affordable access.” The Chronicle