‘Aborted data fees increase suspicious’

Source: ‘Aborted data fees increase suspicious’ – DailyNews Live 15 January 2017

Maxwell Sibanda

HARARE – While Communication Technologies minister, Supa Mandiwanzira this
week suspended the new floor prices of data services which had been
introduced by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority
(Potraz) on January 9 until he resumes work end of this month, analysts
are worried about the timing of the aborted increase.

And there are strong fears among Zimbabweans that government’s suspension
maybe lifted and the hike introduced although it will not be that high.

The analysts said given that 2017 is the campaign year ahead of next
year’s elections, government would like to curtail the use of social media
given that last year Zimbabweans used the platform to air their
grievances, a development that rattled the State.

The citizens also managed to mobilise themselves through social media and
staged massive protests against government’s misrule, rampant corruption
and police brutality.

Misa-Zimbabwe while welcoming government’s decision to suspend the
exorbitant increase said there is still need for further consultations on
an ideal pricing model for the sector given that Zimbabwe’s mobile data
tariffs are among the highest on the continent.

“The envisioned pricing model should strike a balance between business
interests and citizens’ rights to access. This can be achieved by ensuring
competition and innovation in the sector in the interest of promoting
access, affordability and respect for human rights,” said Misa-Zimbabwe’s
senior programmes officer Nyasha Nyakunu.

In its reversal statement, Potraz noted the conduct and double standards
of the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) who were now denying that they
engaged the regulator seeking for the increase.

However, analysts feel the move is regrettable and they doubt if it was
mere coincidence that it is happening just a year before the elections.

ZimRights director Okay Machisa said it should be known that the proposed
unprecedented rise of these tariffs was meant to erode fundamental freedom
and rights of Zimbabweans. “Access to information is well-shrined in the
Constitution and Potraz seemed to be doing exactly the opposite.

“We are aware of the idea behind all this and surely Zimbabwe is
struggling to match other countries in the region on technological
development and retrogressive minds always think of political hegemony.

“It is quite unfortunate that we have individuals who are sent to manage
institutions like Potraz who will never grow professionally because they
want to serve their political masters. “Social media in my view should be
kept as cheap as possible to allow free exchange of information and ideas
for the growth of Zimbabwe.”

Playwright Raisedon Baya said: “There are many theories that run in my
head even if the minister says the hike has been suspended. That it could
have been a calculated move to make sure there is little sharing of
information during the rundown to election. Let’s not forget Evan Mawarire
and his “ThisFlag” movement nearly crippled the government using social
media. Now they would want to indirectly disable any social media
revolution.”

Media practitioner Patience Zirima said the timing and the events in
previous months gives room for Zimbabweans to speculate on the motives
behind the floor prices for data tariffs.

“Whether intended or not, the net effect was going to make data beyond the
reach of most citizens who rely on mobile phones to access the internet.
It was going to affect how citizens would engage in electoral processes,
given that WhatsApp and other social media have become a critical platform
through which citizens’ access information and share ideas.”

Social commentator Rashweat Mukundu suspects that after trying threats and
using the law, Potraz had decided to hit social media activism via the
pocket. “The aborted huge and unjustifiable increase in data costs was
meant to stifle the public use of social media and this is an election
strategy to limit public engagement on the dire Zimbabwe situation.

“Any increase in the near future goes against local and world calls to
enhance ICT use in business, advancing human, social and political rights
of the public. At a time of e-banking, e-education and e-governance this
increase could have taken us back to stone age.

“I suspect this shocking move was driven by political fear not strength,
those were not actions of a government confident in itself.”

Communications and leadership expert Maggie Mzumara said this unfortunate
development if it will be implemented would hamper people’s access to
information. “The unfortunate thing with our situation is that we can’t
put anything past our government. The few liberties our people enjoy
government has on many occasions not hesitated to snatch them from the
citizenry, thereby depriving them of any windows or opportunities of some
relief in these hard times.

“We hope government reconsiders and the suspension will hold forever. You
really cannot with certainty rule out politics and politicking out of
this.”

Zesn director Rindai Chipfunde Vava said: “Access to information is
critical to citizens participation using popular social media platforms.
The proposed high prices could have inhibited the majority of Zimbabweans
access to information on electoral developments and voter education
necessary for making informed choices.”

Political analyst Blessing Vava said: “The obvious reality is that the
Zanu PF government will now be employing all counter actions to bar
Zimbabweans from social media. They are not taking any chances as we
prepare for the polls in 2018.”

Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the aborted move was another
first by Zimbabwe, a new low in politics, economics and
telecommunications.

“It was very unprecedented in any jurisdiction that a regulatory authority
would side with services providers and trigger an increase in tariffs.
Regulatory authorities in mixed economic systems are there to safeguard
consumer interest and curb excesses of profit motivated business
operators.

“In Zimbabwe, this move just illustrated how again we would have scored a
first in doing things in reverse-political topsy-turvy. We are a true
shack down economy where the business and corrupt government seize any
opportunity to fleece the poor public, the consumers.

“Economically, the increase in tariffs has no backing. It’s unjustified,
given the economic imperatives prevailing in Zimbabwe and a deflationary
and repressed market.

“Apart from accessing social platforms and mobile money, people were
getting information on early warning signs including animal diseases,
pests, and rainfall partners, market prices for agriculture products,
health alerts, and micro insurance information among others.

“These are all advantages to the general populace that will be affected by
the ill-conceived and heedless move by Potraz. The whole mobile data
bundle tariff rise in Zimbabwe is a heedless, retrogressive, insensitive
and politically motivated onslaught on freedom of expression ahead of 2018
elections.”

Saungweme believes the proposed increase was meant to stifle political and
activists campaigns that have shaken the core of the Zanu PF regime with
social media campaigns such as #thisflag, #tajamuka and #Zimbabweyadzoka
having proved to be very efficacious and successful.

“Zanu PF is very afraid of these campaigns. So this purported move must be
seen as an early attempt at rigging the 2018 polls. This is one of a wide
range of options Zanu PF intends to use to rig polls. “Rigging has already
started. This is also a sign that there will be no electoral reforms at
all. We have been yearning for electoral reforms that guarantee among
other things, our freedom of expression. “This latest move was to block
freedom of expression in a very big way and must be documented as the
genesis of 2018 election rigging by Zanu PF.”

The post ‘Aborted data fees increase suspicious’ appeared first on Zimbabwe Situation.