The Herald reports today that the Government of Zimbabwe has raised the operating license fees for mobile network and fixed telephone operators from the current US $100 million to $180 million. The change comes as Econet Wireless and Telecel Zimbabwe prepare to renew their operating licenses in June this year. The licenses will be issued under a new Converged Licensing Framework. This is a move from the traditional technology specific licenses to a framework of technology and service neutrality.
The changes mean the operators will be able to offer a full range of telecommunication services using any technology including fixed telephony and fixed internet services. It’s something that has been going on already in some ways. Internet Access Providers like Africom, PowerTel and Valley Technologies have in recent years been offering fixed internet, voice, and mobile internet services using IP based technologies their their IAP licenses provide for. Mobile operators were limited though, with companies like Econet using subsidiary licenses (the Ecoweb one) to offer IP services.
Zimbabwe currently has 15 Licensed data operators (listed here, here and here), 4 GSM mobile operators (Econet, Telecel, NetOne and TelOne) and 1 fixed line operator (TelOne). The Data operators pay either $2 million or $4 million in license fees depending on the class with the most common class being the $4m one. Mobile and fixed telephone operators pay $100 million for a 10 year license.
In 2009, the Postal And Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) declared an indefinite suspension on the issuance of new telecoms licenses. TelOne was however issued with a GSM license the following year, a license the company has failed to operationalise since.
The Herald article also says Finance Minister Tendai Biti said “the licensing revenue would be leveraged in support of some of the financial requirements of both referendum and election programmes.” We are not sure if this means the fees have been raised to pay for the referendum and elections (which we hope against all hope this is not the case), or if the additional money will just be a convenient coincidence.
The raising of license fees will impact on the operators’ cost of delivering telecoms services so we may need to prepare for an increase in tariffs or, at best, previously planned tariff slashes to not happen.