Another data price hike shock for Zimbabweans

01 May 2019 - 11:10 By James Thompson
The cost of accessing the internet in Zimbabwe just skyrocketed.
The cost of accessing the internet in Zimbabwe just skyrocketed.
Image: Gallo Images/iStockphoto

Mobile data price increases in Zimbabwe are a blow to startup companies, media outlets and ordinary users, with a third mobile company now hiking its rates.

Government-owned Net One with a subscriber base of just over 3 million in early April hiked its charges after getting approval from the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe. Telecel, another mobile operator in Zimbabwe, followed suit.

However, a shock for many came this week when Econet, with 11,4 million subscribers, effected a 150% hike.

Already, according to a report by Cable - an organisation that tracks mobile and broadband services globally - Zimbabwe’s data is more expensive than all countries in sub-Saharan Africa with a gigabyte costing more than $70.

“It’s bad for many businesses that rely on digital marketing and newspaper companies that have employed digital strategies in a fast-paced information communication world. The world is now digital, new business models are platform based, but high data charges limit access to the platforms,” said Harare social media expert John Mokwetsi.

The internet has been useful in the country’s social fabric. Just recently various groups used social media to crowdsource funds to help Cyclone Idai victims in Chimanimani in March.

For the politically conscious, the hike is a direct attack on their freedom to access information at a time when they feel mainstream media products are compromised.

“I belong to a political group where we discuss how the economy should be fixed but at this rate, we will have less people going online,” said Tendai Ncube, who identified himself as a Zanu-PF supporter.

Ncube added that it’s bad enough for him in the capital city but it could be worse for rural folk, where the majority of Zimbabweans reside.

“I work for a living but my grandmother or cousins who rely on me for data will have to scale down. This means they will not have access to news as much as they had in recent times,” he added.

But just like other business entities that rely on foreign currency, mobile operators feel the pinch as the local ZWL is losing ground against major currencies.

At this week's rate, US$1 = ZWL3,35 on the interbank rate but US$1 = ZWL475 on the black market, where most people source hard currency because of scarcity at the banks.

Last week retired army general vice-president Constantino Chiwenga warned companies that were increasing prices on goods and services, calling them financial terrorists.

“I want to give a stern warning to those practising financial terrorism in the country. We will react accordingly as government and nobody should claim that they were not warned. We’ll take very strict measures,” he said.

With government threatening the introduction of price controls, economists warn that there will be disruption of services and disappearance of products from the shelves because businesses cannot survive under such repression.