Misa-Zimbabwe calls out govt, firms over steep data costs
By Nkosana Dlamini
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe is up in arms with mobile telecoms services firms for maintaining high data tariffs which were not consistent with average incomes of most citizens.
The media rights lobby called on parliament to consult with the Information Communication Technology, and the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), in finding ways to bring about internet affordability to the ordinary citizen.
Zimbabweans still struggle to put a modest meal on the table, let alone reserve a budget for data.
The Covid-19 menace which broke out March last year, has railroaded locals to conduct business, learning, meetings online.
This is also part of national measures to limit human physical contact as a result of the highly transmissible disease.
Misa Zimbabwe said “the pricing of data tariffs in Zimbabwe should be cognisant of the economic realities of the majority of Zimbabweans.
“Zimbabwean mobile network operators (MNOs), should learn from interventions by MNOs and internet service providers in other jurisdictions such as MTN, Google and Microsoft, that strike a balance between business and (the enjoyment of) human rights.
“Local authorities, both rural and urban, should equip rural libraries with free internet access.”
The calls by Misa-Zimbabwe follow a multi-stakeholder engagement meeting on internet access and affordability convened recently by the lobby in partnership with the International Centre for Not for Profit Law.
The discussion raised awareness of the experiences of Zimbabwean stakeholders on issues pertaining to internet access and affordability.
In his keynote address during the virtual meeting, parliament’s Information Communication Technology deputy chair, Ability Gandawa said there is general consensus that internet access is a challenge in Zimbabwe due to affordability issues and limited infrastructure.
It was noted that this is also due to the lack of competition in the telecommunications industry as the requirements are prohibitive for start-up companies, of which such competition would promote competitiveness and better pricing.
Gandawa said the Covid-19 pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in the internet governance framework in Zimbabwe such as the digital divide.
He said this limited access to information by rural communities, democratic participation by citizens, and, access to employment opportunities.
The lawmaker added that parliament had engaged mobile network operators and internet service providers who highlighted that the cost drivers include operational costs that include fuel and costs for maintaining infrastructure such as base stations.
During the meeting, Nkosikhona Dibiti, a journalist and content creator, highlighted how internet access and affordability is impacting on their professional duties.
Dibiti said that internet access is critical for content creators for purposes of research, and, communicating with sources faster and easily.
Sandra Gama, who represents the interests of women and girls in rural and marginalised communities, highlighted several factors: economic, technical and social, that are affecting internet access and use.
It was noted that several stakeholders undermine the importance of internet access for people in rural communities which include e-commerce, e-learning and access to information.
Hindrances to internet access and use were noted as including high costs of smart devices, high data costs, language barrier as most of the content and information is in the English language, social theories that women with smartphones and on social media platforms, are immoral.