Telecoms regulator flexes muscles

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s telecommunications regulator says it will order companies in the sector to connect marginalised people in Maranda, Mwenezi, who have no access to communication channels.

The small business centre on the northern edge of Mwenezi is only serviced by Zimbabwe’s largest mobile network services provider,  Econet.

Phibeon Chaibva, an official with the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), said his organisation will probe why other network services firms are not operating in the area.

“We’ll engage NetOne, Telecel and other companies and find out why they have no presence in this area. It is consumers’ right to freely select their service providers, as well as products and services, from a variety of offerings,” he told people in the marginalised area during a road show on Saturday.

Econet, which has over the past nine years invested more than $1,4 billion in infrastructure development, is on a drive to connect rural Zimbabweans that are in off-grid areas through its various interventions.

Chaibva said it was not proper for telecommunications companies to focus their efforts on cities, with their compact populations and in-place infrastructures that are easier to connect and upgrade. This has created a technology void for a large swath of the country and left out the rural police from the “forth industrial revolution”.

“The mobile phone is the most powerful technology for ending poverty in the world today,” Chaibva said in an interview on the sidelines of the consumer awareness campaign.

“With the spread of 3G and soon 4G technology, even the most remote schools in the poorest parts of the world can connect to the Internet and share ideas with other classrooms a continent away,” he said, adding that communal areas, once isolated, can now quickly check on local market prices and make important decisions on whether to bring their herds in from kilometres away for sale in the local town.

“And critical health data and life-saving information can be sent by text messages to clinics to support rapid diagnoses for patients in remote villages,” he said.

Mwenezi West Member of Parliament Priscilla Zindari Moyo also urged various service providers to come on board and support the emerging area.

“My main aim at the moment is to ensure that we have a Post Office in this area as well as information and communication centres to boost the area,” she said.

The newly-elected legislator noted that lack of communication access puts rural businesses at a disadvantage compared to metropolitan companies with blanket connectivity and high-speed Internet.

This comes as research has shown that many rural businesses are faced with issues of getting fast, reliable cell phone connectivity.

There are still rural towns and growth points in Zimbabwe without adequate broadband infrastructure and even rural areas that lack cellular signal altogether.

To its credit, Potraz has been utilising the Universal Services Fund (USF) to provide telecommunication services to underserved rural areas of Zimbabwe. The regulator encourages operators to share the infrastructure provided under USF projects for the betterment of the communities in the chosen areas.

After completion of the project the infrastructure is assigned to individual operators for operations and maintenance. — The Financial Gazette