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Here’s why the government might block WhatsApp

   

Here’s the latest number in tech that’s got people talking; WhatsApp is now sitting on 900 million users. That’s more than impressive for a platform that is focused on Instant Messaging and voice communication with no major offline advertising strategy.

This latest bit of news on WhatsApp reinforces what users, fans and even the naysayers of the app or any other Instant Messaging app have come to accept: people will always rush to use solutions that are simple to understand and make sense from an economic standpoint.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Zimbabwean mobile subscribers have the same sentiments. We all love Instant messaging, and thanks to Net Neutrality violations, we love “WhatsApping” in particular.

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Reasons like cost, familiarity, and peer pressure are pretty obvious. But, as an add-on to all this our mobile networks made it even more appealing with WhatsApp bundles – those $3 and $6 monthly subscriptions that give us unlimited access to the IM platform.

This helped boost Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) for the mobile operators and helped shine light on the fact that even in Zimbabwean telecoms, the future is in data services. At the same time, it weaned people off voice calling.

Now, every quarterly report from the telecoms regulator, POTRAZ and every operator’s financial report has utterances of how services like WhatsApp are one of the major contributors to a faster fall in voice revenues.

The cries from the operators grabbed the attention of the Ministry of ICT. When the infrastructure sharing issue was still being thrashed out, the Minister of ICT, Supa Mandiwanzira mentioned how he had given operators the option to table suggested solutions for dealing with the challenges that they are facing, including the effect of Over The Top Services.

It will be up to the Ministry of ICT to determine whether the actions that the operators propose are worth enforcing, and though nothing has been brought forward by the operators (except the proposed framework for infrastructure sharing) it’s safe to assume the issue of voice revenues and the factors accelerating its decline are what the operators want to be addressed.

This reality was reinforced by the latest POTRAZ report. A 14.2% decline in telecoms revenue can be partly blamed on our flailing economy, but the drop in voice revenue has also had a huge impact on the operators’ bottom lines.

Reversing the tariffs reduction which was effected on voice calls doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon, (the Minister of ICT is on a tariffs reduction warpath and POTRAZ ‘s strong efforts on new pricing already rule that option out) and just removing WhatsApp bundles won’t work (subscribers would still use IM) so banning OTT services like WhatsApp might just be what these operators will consider.

If it is presented as an alternative from the operators, the Government, through the Ministry of Finance (which is receiving lower taxes from the operators) would gladly sign off on that. This would be a decision based on revenue and preserving an industry that has contributed significantly to state coffers.  Besides, we wouldn’t be the first country to do this.


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