Last month, when Econet Wireless chief executive, Douglas Mboweni, appeared before a parliamentary committee on Media, Information and Communication Technology on ICT, he reportedly disclosed that Econet is owed a whopping US $85 million by NetOne and TelOne in interconnection fees.
Last week when Econet decided to terminate interconnection with NetOne it cited $20.4 million as the figure outstanding from NetOne in interconnection fees excluding interest. This effectively leaves an amount at least 3 times are much, owed to Econet interconnection fees by the two state owned telcos. Ostensibly, this would be about the amount TelOne, the country’s sole fixed line operator, owes Econet.
A source at Econet has confirmed that TelOne does owe more. Much more. We are also told that it’s not just NetOne and TelOne that owe Econet interconnection monies. Without naming the other telecoms firms, the source said they are owed money by more and that them being owed such payments was nothing out of the ordinary. It is NetOne’s attitude towards the debt that Econet had found surprising and deserving the rapid escalation of events leading to the disconnection. Specifically, the sudden denial by the state owned mobile operator that they had no agreement with the company, and therefore “no obligations due to Econet with regards to interconnection fees”.
TelOne, according to our source, has been honouring its interconnection fees obligations to Econet in terms making arrangements to clear the debt and paying something. The source says that even though the payments from TelOne come in trickles, the state owned fixed line company had not “repudiated” the interconnection agreement with Econet.
NetOne itself has suggested the interconnection termination has more to do with hitting the company when it hurts the most; during one of the country’s biggest business exhibitions, the Harare Agricultural Show, and that it may be more an act economic sabotage than just an ordinary business decision.