While the Zimbabwean government has heightened the call for the implementation of Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation,Zim-Asset, for economic recovery the same action on ground must reciprocate the call.
Under the ZimAsset document, Infrastructure and Utilities Cluster Matrix. Priority Area 2, on Information Communication Technology, the policy states that it seeks “ To Develop and review appropriate ICT legislation and policies;”
By Toneo Tonderai Rutsito
ICTs are also referred to on Social Services and Poverty Eradication Cluster under section 7.2.3 as a strategy to Promote Utilisation of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) as a fundamental tool for economic turnaround.
While the priority area 2, clearly stipulates the need to “review appropriate ICT legislation and policies”, it is unfortunate and retrogressive to note that the pricing adjustments in the statutory instrument 115 for Vsat Technology landing fees leaves a lot to be desired.
According to Statutory Instrument 115 of 2013 section 6.1, “The Vsat /Mobile Satellite service terminal (MSS) landing rights fees (payable In USD) , For Vsat: An Annual fee payable in advance , per EACH VSAT STATION in full will be $1 500.00, the MSS Terminal calls for an annual fee paid in advance of $1 000.00.
When our ICT legislation calls for such regulatory fees then as Zimbabweans we are our own greatest enemy that needs to be first overcome before we start seeing the real growth of ICTs, to bridge the technological devide.
While statutes call for over $1 500.00 landing fees per every very small aperture terminal ( VSAT) station, this simply means that before any business considers itself profitable it will fist need to make sure that Vsat technology has a capacity to remit up to $1 000.00 per every user annually, obviously this cost will have to be passed on to me and you, the user.
By design, this will mean every service provider will be forced to add $125 every month before costs to any client who seeks the service , not considering the high installation or setup fees involved in such a technology plus the profit margins which the IAP/or ISP will need to make .
Regrettably, the current landing rights makes VSAT business unviable too for the service providers which are going to be forced to pass on the cost to the marginalised special interest groups who are mostly remote schools, colleges, farms, hospitals, parks and mines.
VSAT technology is meant to connect internet to these areas where high speed connectivity like fibre optic or wimax cannot reach due to operational costs involved hence the global satellite communication is the only solution.
While it may make sense for the authority to ask all satellites to be hosted locally, it still costs close to a million to have an international standard hub locally which makes no business sense for any player.
VSAT service providers are reported to have been lobbying the regulator, Potraz on the matter. Potraz as a regulator is mandated to ensuring provision of sufficient telecommunications services in this country and have to ensure independent financial viability of the same service providers.
The Tarrif system should also consider the plight and viability of Internet Access Providers (IAP), Internet Service Providers (ISP) who unlike individual corporate institutions are not being asked to pay any annual contribution towards licences and service fees.
This is driven by the fact that IAPsand ISPs are already subject to substantial licensing fees, which should be taken into account when considering landing rights fees.
The class A internet Access providers are required to pay an initial or renewal licence fee of a whopping $5,5 million while the class B also pay a $2.75 million. For mobile cellular, its a new fee for $137.5 million while the fixed operator would need $100 million for operating licence alone.
This includes an annual fee of $100 000 or 2% of the annual gross turnover or whichever is greater payable monthly as application and annual licence fees. A separate 0.5% monthly gross turnover towards the Universal Service Funds (USF) is added.
Since the Internet Access Providers are already contributing towards the USF, a fee which is meant to develop and connect areas which are perceived to be unviable, VSAT technology in itself is a technology that is meant to develop specifically unviable, and remote areas hence a double contribution towards USF.
The Authority`s mandate is to come up with the terms and conditions for provision of telecommunications services in the country in a manner that balances the interests of all stakeholders, key amongst them being the consumers, service providers and the state.
In that regard, it will be only prudent for the authorities to revise their recent position in the statutory instrument 115 of 2013 on VSAT landing rights fees if at all we are serious about bridging the technological divide.