Consumer rights and Zimbabwe’s telecoms sector

   

A free market economy is a sound development catalyst as jobs, opportunities and wealth are created. Unfortunately; as has been the case with anything unbalanced, capitalism can be downright devastating if left to its own devices. One cannot help but to think of scandals like Enron, Worldcom, Renaissance Zimbabwe and numerous others. Insatiable greed is a reality. Conversely too much government control in any economy can result in stagnation due to a lack of incentive and purpose. A fine balance of the two is a trusted success formula.

Due to the critical role ICT is playing in the socio-economic advancement of developing countries, its stability is attracting greater focus. The more access a nation has to affordable and reliable telecommunications solutions, the higher its growth prospects become. Mobile phones alone have transformed nations like Kenya with Michael Joseph-CEO of Safaricom Kenya stating the following, “I think half the GDP growth in Kenya comes because of the mobile phone revolution, not because of anything else. It has provided these people means of communication”. Telecoms experts have now unanimously agreed that the second phase of growth lies in the development of broadband. On this note the International Telecom’s Union has published a press release stating that every 10% increase in broadband has contributed 2.5% to the booming Chinese economy. More information on this can be found in an article published by Biz Tech Africa.

When all is said and done, the ultimate question is whether Zimbabwe’s consumers are getting value for money or not? The economy has made very encouraging progress since dollarization however costs of living and doing business have continued to hover above the rest of Southern Africa. Are the operators entrusted with accelerating Zimbabwe’s entrance into the information age doing so? We have often been told that affordable and quality broadband is not as simplistic as attributing undersea cables to it. We’ve also been told that the government’s generous waiver of duties for ICT products, a move we expected to result in the most affordable prices in the region is also not that simplistic. We are really eager to find out what your comments on this are.

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Elsewhere on the continent consumer activism in the ICT sector has resulted in a greater balance. On the 27th of May 2010 consumers in Ghana staged a demonstration in protest of shoddy services. According to Ghanaweb the Consumer Protection Agency (CPA), together with other consumer right groups, called on all mobile phone users in the country to switch off their mobile phones from 6 a.m. to 12 a.m. Cell C South Africa was banned from using the term 4GS in its marketing as this was found to be false. The Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa ruled against the campaign, and the company’s CEO issued a public apology. Cell C apparently meant to say that 4GS stood for: 4 (for) Greater Services. Zimbabwe is in a similar position as some operators have begun referring to themselves as Africa’s telecoms leaders and others promoting themselves as 4G complaint yet selling 256Kbps and 1mbps packages.

A converged effort on the part of consumers and the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe is required to blow away the smoke screens of deception consumers have had to deal with. A balance must be struck in which all stakeholders of the ICT sector find common ground and transparently lay their facts out.


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