Here is the latest in the Starlink saga. The Minister of ICT, Mavetera, gave a statement on where we are with the satellite internet service provider. Spoiler: she repeated herself, we are where we were a few months ago.
Apparently Starlink is yet to submit an application but they have indicated to the Postal and Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) that they are interested in coming to Zimbabwe.
The Minister talked about more than just Starlink. So, here is a transcription of part of her statement:
On the issue of Starlink, Zimbabwe is open for business and one thing we need to understand and appreciate is we have got an engagement agenda that we have as a country.
And we have been very clear to say that we are very much willing to also adopt any new ways that will make sure that we enhance our digital footprint in this country.
And you’ll realise that the issue of connectivity is something that we are very much serious with as a ministry. And what are we then doing – satellite technologies, these are low orbit technologies that we also need to also adopt as a country.
I believe that we can appreciate that Africom is one which is already having that. And I think we have already started releasing satellite technologies. So, Starlink is just one.
But Starlink, the position on Starlink is that they communicated to Potraz that they are willing to want to engage the Zimbabwe government. But until today they have not even paid for their application fees.
And it is Potraz, their structure is that …., any company that is going to also trade or to also be having a telecoms licence, they also need to also make sure that they pay a certain figure that is there.
So, because of that Starlink has not been able to do that. They have said they want to but they have not been able to come back to Potraz. This is the latest that I have on Potraz.
But of course, we are also working flat out also to make sure we have got reliable connectivity and also affordable data also coming through to all the citizens of Zimbabwe.
We have got a social contract with the people of Zimbabwe and indeed it is quite important to make sure that we provide reliable services and also we also provide connectivity at it’s best and I believe that is what we are working towards.
So, yeah, the ball seems to be in Elon Musk’s court. The government of Zimbabwe says come on through but apparently, Starlink is yet to make an application. Maybe Potraz should check their Spam folder, the email could be there. Talk is cheap Elon, you said you want to come to Zimbabwe, now back it up with an application.
Why the hold up?
Okay, what could be the hold up? We touched on this before. It could be the currency issue in the country giving Starlink pause. The thing is, they would have to accept ZW$, probably.
This little pseudo-currency of ours is not traded on international markets and so Starlink would have to queue up with Econet, Liquid, Dandemutande and all other ICT players at the RBZ’s auction, begging vaMangudya for some sweet USD action.
Could it be that Starlink cannot afford to pay the application and/or initial licence fee? That’s jokes. I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, that Starlink would be applying for the ISP (National) licence.
To get that licence, the application fee is US$50 whilst the licence fee is US$50,000 for a 20-year tenure. Elon Musk/Starlink would not even notice if their bank account dwindled by $50,050.
However, if Starlink is considered a Fixed Telecom Network then the application fee would be $800 and the licence fee $100 million. That’s a sum that even Musk would baulk at. So, it could be this fee that’s to blame.
For context, the mobile network operator licence is $137 million.
Remember there is an annual USF + licence fee of 3.5% of gross turnover plus VAT. This is a significant payment.
I know, Zimbabwe is not under sanctions, only certain Zanu individuals are. However, as many entrepreneurs have confessed, this situation has made many American companies hesitant to do business in Zimbabwe or with Zimbabwean businesses.
Could it be that after some due diligence, Starlink decided that they could not take on the risk of falling afoul of the US government by working with the Zimbabwe government. As many American companies before have concluded.
The Minister said we are looking at Starlink as just one option, and that’s good to hear. We should not be looking at Starlink as the messiah, we need competition for Starlink.
However, I disagree that we can compare what Starlink has with what Africom offers. Yes, Africom has a VSAT Teleport Hub but that’s not even comparable to Starlink’s network of low-earth orbit satellites.
Starlink alternatives, which are far behind at this point by the way, include OneWeb, Kuiper, Telesat Lightspeed, China’s GuoWang and a few others. Africom is not offering what these guys are offering. Not in performance and certainly not in price.
Anyway, as you were.