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Opinion / Columnist

Of data tariffs and social media sanity

13 Jan 2017 at 06:55hrs | Views
The Postal  and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe's (POTRAZ) surprise directive to have data charges raised astronomically has brewed the expected anger from the public who had sought refuge from high voice call charges by the country's mobile phone operators. Econet, the largest provider of cellular and data communication services was the first to heed this call. The firm has since then been receiving all sorts of resistance from its clientele. Some have spiritedly started de-campaigning Econet using the very social media.

Social media activism (Soctivism) has encouraged every Econet subscriber to take a $2 airtime loan and dump the sim card after exhausting the airtime. Some are encouraging users to relegate Econet sim cards to ordinary phones that are not data compliant (commonly known as ‘mbudzi). So active is the picketing that some have taken their time to design pamphlets attacking the steep data price hike. ‘Econet wireless, inspiring you to switch to NetOne. #Tell someone!,'  reads the banner designed in all the three main mobile phone operators' (MPO) corporate colors and pay lines. Some social media activists (Soctivists) have called for a total boycott of all Econet services from airtime to EcoCash to Ecosure.

POTRAZ has raised the minimum prices of data for MPO and ISPs to $0.10 per mega bite citing that the current prices were way below the regional average. POTRAZ also argued that the current mobile penetration rate of 50.1% in the country creates an opportunity for cashing in on the new pricing by MPOs, raising their employment capacities and the government's tax base.

Every dark cloud has a silver lining. Since the beginning of highly affordable data under promotional bundles offered in stampede competition among the MPO, cases of social media abuse have been on the increase. Marriages have broken down, so has the modesty of many. Sex movies and all manner of immorality have been on the increase. These are not compatible to the national culture of modesty and decency. Family groups were more often than not decimated by the posting of p.ornographic and immoral graphics.

Soctivists also took the unfair advantage of thrashing otherwise positive public initiatives driven by government and other public utilities. Pleas to stop vandalism and public disorder were quashed by spirited social media campaigns to the contrary. The social media had become a junction for all manner of social vice, among them indecency, Satanism, sexual perversion, child abuse, defamation and the assault of private persons' peace. The pricing will see useful staff only being uploaded on the network. Social media had become a home of trivia and outright nonsense. Last to grace the social media scene was the skirmish between Desmond Chideme and wife Olinda. How really should their little private tiff be a matter of public consumption? Their marriage has much wider chances of mending or coming to a much cleaner halt in the private than public domain, whichever comes first.

And on the commercial front, MPO have all the chance to expand their operations, create more employment and pay more tax from this unpopular regulation. Real competition is going to be created in the telecoms industry with real customer friendly policies unrelated to price wars the three major operators were engaged in. The government owned landline phone company TelOne has every reason to expand given a sure possibility that its services are going to be demanded more. TelOne traditionally offers cheaper voice calls than any other provider. TelOne also has a mobile operator's license in its hand and appeared to be failing to find its way into the cut throat market competition. Now it is presented with a beautiful opportunity to enter the market courtesy of POTRAZ. Africom, the fourth mobile phone company in Zimbabwe has for long been suffering from the bloody price wars staged by its seniors on the market and this opportunity may present rich pickings for the firm as well. ZESA's baby PowerTel will also see its fortunes changing In the desired direction if their market penetration techniques are to find the POTRAZ fulcrum useful. The uniformity of pricing is going to create a different dimension in the competition for the finite market.

True, many businesses were relying on such social media platforms as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp for marketing blitzes with the knowledge that their market is largely accessible via same but for the trade unionist, this could prove a very useful move by POTRAZ. Faced by the possibility of dwindling markets on the background of a compromised social media marketing reach, it will become imperative that firms employ more marketers to cover the ground physically and close the void created by a compromised media access.

While the generality of citizens will be mourning the disappearance of cheap media access, there are several areas of celebration too. Meanwhile, the very social media has issued a message purportedly from Econet CEO Douglas Mboweni claiming that the firm sympathized with its subscribers and was engaging POTRAZ on the matter. The Herald reported that NetOne was complaining to POTRAZ and was lobbying for the reversal of the pricing regime. What an unlikely complainant!


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wekwamusariri@yahoo.com

Source - Tawanda Musariri
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