By Toneo Tonderai Rutsito
As Zimbabwean haplessly watched their right to communicate openly being thwarted, during a fiery battle of the giants, just like grass we all suffered as the elephants got into a bruising fight.
The 25 of July of saw the most unthinkable thing happening in the telecoms sector, or is it a repeat, confirming our worst nightmares that with all the control and power vested upon mobile operators, surely they can just do anything to us, the subscribers.
Sad enough all this has been happening right under the nose of our regulator, Potraz, which only joined the game a little too late as they frantically ran around with ultimatums only to enforce the reconnection exactly 13 days after the furore had gone public.
What a spot light it lands them on!
Of course this has not been the first battle of the giants that Potraz had to play referee, last year Econet Wireles Zimbabwe had some serious disagreements of interconnection fees amounting to US$20,412,109 excluding interest as at 31st July 2012 against Netone, Unfortunately Econet has been pulling the same trick of cutting interconnection.
Smutting from this same mudslinging, Potraz has proved clueless on how to solve such problems neither has it created an environment which protects the subscribers should any future problems arise.
Swamped by current aggressive promotions, all the mobile phone operators have literally gone out for the “election Campaign” as they seek to win hearts of their subscribers.
With such an environment, dirty, foul plays and cowardice acts are imminent as the battle for the 13 million potential subscribers takes its toll.
Unfortunately, it would be a much more comfortable move for Econet Wireless Zimbabwe to cut off the other players should the rules of the game puts them in a corner since they already have the bigger piece of cake on their table.
Tolerating further negotiations likely puts them in a position where they will loose a fraction of their mega 8million plus subscribers hence guarding your gains jealously is something everyone else would do, and Econet is only doing likewise.
With such a volatile situation, Potraz should have moved in a long time to implement a level playing field which safeguards and protects the ordinary man on the streets who relies on telecommunications for his day to day business with more than 70% employed as informal traders without any need to mention the role communication plays in our daily social life.
That is so much put at stake here and Potraz was not expected to only crack whip, but to a larger extent makes sure that Zimbabwean subscribers are protected today and in the future. This irregardless of the reasons behind service termination, whether justifiable or not, subscribers are vulnerable.
It’s not just about how the mobile operators make their money but also to a greater extent, our well-being as subscribers has to be greatly prioritised before any decision is made.
One very simple measure Potraz should have considered all these years is to implement what we term Mobile Number portability.(MNP)
Although on paper this really sounds easy to implement, as a regulator which is constantly collecting revenue, from these players, they owe it to Zimbabwe to use part of that money to protect the subscribers.
Just to take everyone else aboard, MNP is a system which allows every mobile phone subscriber to easily switch from one network to the other without any need to change one`s phone number.
Imagine during a certain network crisis, complacency, poor service delivery or to be much more relevant when one mobile network simply does not want to offer Value Added Service (VAS), all a subscriber needs to do is to simply crossover while he/she still keeps the phone number.
With Mobile Number Portability no network service Provider will own subscribers at all. Poor service delivery will vanish and the game of playing with the interconnecting switch button will also immediately seize.
This will make Zimbabwe`s telecoms sector very healthy, without any need of one network boasting over coverage. This of course will make Potraz too to build lots of base stations instead of having the mobile operators themselves building their own infrastructure.
Regrettably, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe to date has invested millions of dollars to put their network where it is today and other players should not easily ride on their investment in the interest of fair play.
Potraz collects Universal Service Funds (USF)f from all telecoms service providers and these charges should see such grey areas being completely covered for the betterment of communication service delivery.
Last year Potraz was reported to have constructed only 11 base station around the country, and targeted to install 43 more in the coming 2 years.
Just Recently Nigerian Communication Commission released figures that 49% of MTN subscribers have ported since they introduced MNP in April.
With Mobile Number Portability, your mobile operator only acts like a basic service provider while your SIM card number automatically behaves like your own hardware. Any network can now be your service provider while you still keep your most valuable number.
The mobile number itself no longer represents the network but merely acts as a medium to identify a subscriber. The mobile operator simply acts as a platform to allow subscribers to communicate freely.
Ofcourse this will then automatically set the battleground for fair competition. When no mobile operator really owns subscribers and those with poor communication standards will definitely see no revenues coming their way.
For whatever reason, it would be very unfair to tie subscribers to a network because they are protecting their mobile number they have been using for years, inasmuch as it is also disheartening to finally part with your mobile number citing poor network service.
In most developed countries, mobile operators are now focusing on Value added services like giving out latest slick handsets to their subscribers for a certain period at a very reasonable payment contracts, which is a much more smarter way to compete.
As a regulator, whether easy to implement or not, Potraz should not be found compromising in effecting such a move to safeguard the subscribers` interest, sooner than later.
The clear message to you Potraz, Zimbabweans need MNP now than later!