Econet fights for right to communicate

HARARE - Zimbabwe's already hard-pressed citizens will be forced to pay for cellphone calls in foreign currency under a new plan signed into law by President Robert Mugabe last week in which the country's largest mobile phone operator will be forced to pay for outgoing traffic in hard currency.

he directive, which Econet Wireless is challenging in the Supreme Court, would remove the right of many Zimbabweans to communicate with their exiled colleagues and family members in the diaspora and will make access to international calls a privilege of only a few.
The directive has been condemned by business groups as potentially damaging to the Zimbabwe economy. Judge President Rita Mukarau on Monday suspended the regulation saying the Supreme Court – sitting as a constitutional court – needed to hear the case first.
The government has fought since 1995 to defend a cherished monopoly in the telecommunications industry.
Econet Wireless, which enjoys about 57 percent of the local subscriber share,competes with privately owned Telecel Zimbabwe, which has 17 percent of the local market, and state-run Net*One with 26 percent.
Under statutory instrument 70/06, which came into force on November 01 through a presidential decree, the State-owned Net*One would charge US$0,15 while Econet will be forced to pay US$0,20.
Econet Wireless in its court papers contends that Mugabe’s government is attempting to reintroduce Tel*One’s monopoly “through the back door” and this was in violation of a 1995 Supreme Court order that granted it “unrestricted right to move traffic within, into and from Zimbabwe”.
The directive comes at a time when Econet has announced the launch of third generation (3G) cellular services next year. 3G offers high-speed data transmission and allows callers to see real-time video images of each other.
Econet contends in its court papers that government is attempting to make it submit to draconian measures, designed to curtail one of the last arenas of free speech left in Zimbabwe. – Own correspondent

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