THE government has rejected a proposal by the country’s mobile telecommunication companies to regulate the use of over the top services (OTTs) such as WhatsApp, which they say are eating into their profits, a Cabinet minister has revealed.
Zimbabwe’s mobile networks have in the past generated the bulk of their revenues from provision of calling and messaging services which cost around 24 cents per minute and eight cents per message respectively.
But introduction of OTTs, which allow mobile phone users to communicate at far less charges than the mobile phone operators are levying while riding on their very networks, saw hard pressed consumers opting for the cheaper alternatives.
As a result WhatsApp, Viber and Skype are among applications referred to as OTTs that have taken over the communications landscape at the expense of the networks.
Realising that their profitability had been compromised, the operators last year approached government seeking to have the OTTs banned or stifled, Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister Supa Mandiwanzira said.
“Sometime last year, the telecommunication players approached the ministry concerned about the loss of revenue that networks were experiencing as a result of over the top services such as Skype, WhatsApp Calling, Viber and the like, they wanted government to look at the possibility of either banning or stifling these operations to ensure that they would continue to be profitable,” Mandiwanzira said at the recently concluded E-Tech Africa symposium.
“We did mention that as a progressive government, which promotes access to technology, we were averse to the idea of stifling these technologies or banning them.”
Minister Mandiwanzira said the government told the operators to look at the development as an opportunity to facilitate young Zimbabweans to develop applications suitable for local and global use that can rival those coming from abroad.
In line with this idea, the minister said the government has set up an innovation fund that will be funded by the mobile network operators to finance innovations by Zimbabweans.
“We agreed with industry that one percent of the revenue of telecom companies which they generate out of the use of telecommunications services will now go into this specific fund for the promotion of the development of platforms, applications by Zimbabweans,” Minister Mandiwanzira said.
The government is expecting to mobilise up to $25 million in contributions for the fund in the next two years, he said.