Earlier today Econet released a statement, its response to the Telecel statement yesterday that basically accused them of throttling traffic. In the statement, which we posted in full here, Econet essentially said they are no under any obligation to have interconnection with Telecel as Telecel are an unlicensed operator. This because Telecel is still to renew its license.
We have been trying since this afternoon to see if Econet would actually move to disconnect Telecel wholesale. Until about 6PM (a hour ago) we could make calls from an Econet SIM to a Telecel one. Not anymore. Other subscribers have confirmed they too are unable to connect. We also tested SMS messages and so far they are going through, so EcoCash mobile money transfer recipients are likely not affected. Yet. Who knows.
Effectively this means the 8+ million SIM cards on the Econet network have been cut off from making voice calls to the 2.5 million Telecel subscribers. And yes, it’s the people that suffer as the networks fight.
We contacted some sources in the industry and we’re told that the Telecel disconnection is a move instructed from the very top at Econet. According to our sources, the throttling problem that Telecel reported to the market was, as far as Econet was concerned, a genuine technical problem brought about partly by a drastic increase in voice traffic from Telecel. Our sources say the top executives at Econet were unhappy with the Telecel official statement and basically got into a “you want to pick a fight? let’s fight!” mode.
Our sources also said that the top executives at Econet are unhappy that they are forced to compete with an unlicensed operator who hasn’t paid any fees and is basically bagging all the revenue. Having already paid $85 million and now required to pay $52 million by the end of this year, Econet is apparently unhappy that not paying any license fees means Telecel can afford to slash prices at will.
Our feeling so far is that Econet’s move is too drastic and insensitive to what this means for the millions of mobile users in Zimbabwe. People expect to be able to make calls when they have bought airtime to do so. People also expect, when their mobile phones are on, to receive calls from all networks. And they should. Surely, that’s not too much to ask. If an operator is flouting the rules, why not issue a statement first well in advance (a week at least?) so subscribers make a plan?
It’s understandable how infuriating it’d be to compete against a company that’s not paying anything (yet) in regulatory fees when you’ve just parted with nearly $100m. But in not separating the issues by responding to the throttling allegation aside and then issuing a statement (and notice of intention to disconnect) to deal with the ‘competing-against-unlicensed-operators” issue, they just confused everyone.
In fact, Econet just played into Telecel’s hands PR wise. Now, in public’s eyes, they are the big bully who not only throttled calls from a rival small network whose only crime was making communication cheaper, but also went ahead and inconsiderately suddenly disconnected millions of people from communicating with their loved ones. This will dog the Econet brand and will take some serious effort to clean up.
And the deafening silence from POTRAZ! What a let down.