It has been reported that Econet lost its case in court. Back in the nineties that statement meant an assault on freedom of expression, the extension of monopolies in communication and another test of character for the mobile network’s founder, Strive Masiyiwa.
Now, it seems an Econet legal fall means something completely different. The thing is, the network went on to become a fine representation of capitalism. This brought on an approach to business that meant maximising on every opportunity to make a profit.
From an entrepreneur’s perspective, that’s so admirable, but as the consumer, it has meant having to part with so much just to get a service. It’s not just Econet anymore, it’s what telecoms has become.
Like everyone else buying airtime and begrudgingly using unreasonably priced mobile broadband, I’m glad that the State didn’t backpedal on the directive to lower tariffs that started all of this.
No one in their right mind wants to pay more than they should for any service and I wouldn’t be surprised if the honourable Supreme Court Justices who dismissed this case had been stung by expensive call charges themselves.
However, in the bigger scheme of things I think this image of the telecoms operators versus the subscribers is a bit distorted. Call it playing devil’s advocate, but I think the finger should also be pointed at the regulator POTRAZ and not just Econet, Telecel and NetOne. The regulator let them get away with this in the first place.
Our 3 operators were let loose in an environment where they could offer their services at high prices (they still do actually) with the justification that this was necessary for network investment and maintenance.
It would have been awesome if that investment that we all contributed to had been appropriately passed down to us through tougher regulation for network expansion and adoption of the latest tech. It’s what the Universal Services Fund (USF) was supposed to stand for, but apparently didn’t and it’s what POTRAZ is now trying to achieve with this directive that we are celebrating.
I don’t know if the networks are able to make the necessary adjustments just yet, but I doubt it. The legal approach taken by Econet, which is the most financially sound operator in the sector, shows that the times are going to be tougher ahead.
Revenues have plateaued, business models have to be revised, technology is changing which calls for more investment and to top it all off, Caesar still wants his growing share. there’s no soothsayer here, but the result will likely be reduced investment from the operators, a lower growth rate and someday all of us complaining of 3G internet in a 5G world.
That being said, was Econet the only loser in court last Friday? Is it really the problem of the greedy operators or the regulators?