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Zim regulator threatens to disconnect bickering telcos

By , Journalist
Zimbabwe , 07 Sep 2012

Zim regulator threatens to disconnect bickering telcos

Zimbabwean telecommunication companies that disconnect interconnection services with rival operators risk having their licences withdrawn, the Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) has warned in a directive.

The directive comes in the wake of a bitter dispute between mobile operators Econet and NetOne that has gone all the way to the High Court of Zimbabwe. Econet accuses NetOne of failing to pay an outstanding amount of $20 million in call termination fees.

But Econet has bowed down to pressure and agreed to a draft consent order from the high court forcing it to reconnect to its rival operator pending the outcome of the hearing.

The country’s third mobile operator, Telecel, has also added its voice to the controversy by saying that it will not disconnect subscribers on other networks for unpaid call termination fees.

At the end of last month, however, Potraz itself waded into the simmering tensions between mobile firms and issued a directive aimed at minimising the effects of a potential telecoms industry fallout.

“Any unapproved disconnection constitutes a material breach of your licence conditions and may result in withdrawal of the licence,” said Potraz in the directive dated August 28.

Consumer groups, analysts and government officials have raised concerns over the interconnection fee crisis.

They have warned that Potraz risks having the disputes boil over and blow off the relatively stable sector, which has continued to grow while other sectors have stagnated or fared badly in the past two years in Zimbabwe.

Potraz has also failed to force the mobile operators to share infrastructure, as demanded by the regulator, and is now waiting to impose conditions for this on renewal of the operators’ licenses next year.

Econet’s legal representatives say in their arguments filed with the High Court that “once applicant (NetOne) had expressly contended that there was no agreement between the parties, respondent (Econet) was entitled to take the action it did”.

However, Advocate Ray Goba, on behalf of the state run NetOne argued that his client’s rival operator did not follow due procedures in terminating inter-connectivity.

As the dispute rages on in the High Court, interconnectivity between NetOne and Econet subscribers has since been restored, and fears that services between the two giants will subsequently be cut off are dimming as Zimbabwean authorities keep pressing for a less catastrophic solution.

A source with knowledge of developments around the issue however said it was difficult to find a solution forcing the two parties to the same table as there was “nothing yet” on the contested $20 million Econet says it is owed by NetOne.

“NetOne is sticking to its guns that there is no interconnection agreement between the two companies so it’s difficult to then conclusively say that Econet is owed. The final figure might be less than that amount because it is indisputable that NetOne owes Econet; the only issue is around the amount which both parties will agree to,” he said, refusing to be named.

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