Africa Moyo in BINGA
Binga residents yesterday expressed concern over the high costs of voice calls and data in the country.
Speaking during a consumer and community engagement outreach programme organised by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), alongside the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), the residents complained of the recently hiked telecommunications tariffs.
While spelling out the roles of Potraz, the organisation’s director – economics, tariff and competition Mrs Hilda Mutseyekwa said they had declined to effect a huge tariff increase as requested by telecoms operators to cushion consumers who are already burdened by other cost increases.
“We actually approved a tariff that is way less than what operators wanted,” said Mrs Mutseyekwa who was representing Potraz director general Dr Gift Machengete.
“Have you realised that telecommunication tariffs are relatively lower that other products such as sugar?” she asked.
However, in unison, Binga residents who attended the outreach said telecoms tariffs were prohibitive.
Mrs Mutseyekwa promised to look into the issue.
The Herald understands telecoms operators applied in April for a 300 percent tariff hike.
But Potraz shot down the proposal and approved a tariff hike of 113 percent as it sought “to balance between viability of operators and affordability by consumers”.
Following the recent hike, a voice call now costs 48c (NetOne to NetOne for instance) and 47c across networks.
Nonetheless, per second billing remains in force, which means subscribers are charged on the basis of the time they spend on the phone.
Other concerns raised include absence of operators to deal with consumer problems such as sim card replacements and airtime.
Only Econet has a branch in Binga.
Further, the residents say they are choked by high charges of accessing funds from Ecocash agents and expiry of weekly data bundles before using them due to power outages.
The residents also want more banks to facilitate ease of operations as Agribank is the only bank in the area.
The consumer and community engagement outreach programme held in Binga was a first if its kind and falls in line with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) standards and recommendations where collaboration of regulators is encouraged.
The involvement of CCZ, to meet consumers in this era of rapid technological environment, is seen as critical to ensure they are not prejudiced.
Globally there is a need for consumer watchdogs to be included during the design stage of products and services to enable the right to choice, education, and consumer voice rather than resolving challenges that arise when products are already on the market.
In developing countries, consumer choice and voice remain limited. Technological innovation is actually said to be more exclusive and because of the low literacy rate, voices have not been heard thereby affecting consumer choice.
This calls for regulators, consumer organisations and business to work together in developing products and prices that cater for all income groups.