Zimbabwe Government Goes After The Internet

Harare, Zimbabwe, 19 September 2009

The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), has issued a public statement notifying the country that there will be no more licences issued for Internet Access Service Providers in Zimbabwe.

The Authority, which is supposed to be under Nelson Chamisa, has been snatched back by Robert Mugabe and given to Nicholas Goche of ZANU PF.

What the government is trying to do here is to ensure that the small number of ISPs in Zimbabwe are put in a pen and then they will be tightly controlled.

Already, there is a law that requires ISPs to spy on their customers' emails and to hand these over to government at a moment's notice. Failure to put in the spying equipment means that the ISP could lose their licence.

Hence, as the noose tightens around the ISPs currently operating, you will see a lot of them fall by the wayside.

The end result that Mugabe and his men would like to see would be a situation where only one big government-owned Internet Service Provider is left.

That way, they are able to spy to their hearts' content.

Potraz says that it is stopping all licencing because the geographic and population size of Zimbabwe does not allow for more players.

Who are they to decide? Let the market decide that. If there is saturation, you will see mergers, acquisitions and those too hopeless falling by the wayside completely.

So this argument holds no water.

The other excuse is that licencing too many players will result in an "unnecessary duplication of infrastructure."

So why not do what the South Africans did with their cellphone companies. Down there, companies are compelled to allow competitors to use their base stations. Yet that has had no impact on the delivery of quality service.

In fact, considering that Zimbabwe was at one time so advanced that we got television services before South Africa had any, it is a shame that the government wants to retard progress simply because it is bent on ensuring that it stays in power forever.

This development is the first indication that the government has realised that it can not control the Internet, where views are aired freely.


  1. Hi Denford

    The article is strictly not true. I would like to correct a misconception arising from it.

    The advert you are referring to regards a specific class of license, namely the IAP Class A, which gives the holder the right to offer in addition to a basic internet service value added services like VoIP, Video Conferencing and so on.. Furthermore the holder of a Class A license has the right to apply for radio frequency spectrum (covering Zimbabwe) in order to offer this service. So they can in effect become like a cellphone provider (econet, net-one etc) offering mobile value added VoIP services.
    The license also gives the holder the right to have a unique network number (like 011/0912/023) like the cellphone companies and a unique subscriber number and the right to interconnect between networks. Presently if you are using VoIP in Zimbabwe you cannot call an econet/telone number, but the license no entitles you to have the ability to do that. Thus the holder can in effect offer mobile VoIP services to users. so u don't need a landline or cellphone anymore. you can call anyone locally or internationally as long as you have the software and an internet connection!
    As you know, VoIP is cheaper than normal telecommunication and this will revolutionise the ICT industry in Zimbabwe and affect the Incumbents Telco's.

    The reasons NEW applications are been turned down are as follows:
    1. there is a limited frequency available for use hence there are a certain number of licenses which can be issued
    2. the applications were most likely done to 'hold onto frequency' such that if an international player wants to come in, they will need to purchase the frequency
    3. economies of scale, if you have too many 'econets' no-one makes money. setting up and maintaining these networks are prohibitively expensive and you need a massive subscriber base to create profit. this is exactly why we have only 3 cellphone providers and no-one else extra.

    All ISP's in existence (about 18!!) have already been granted licenses (some are IAP Class A and Class B) and once granted they cannot be revoked. IAP Class B licenses can still be applied for and granted!

    The real reason internet is slow and expensive is that because we are land-locked, we are forced to use expensive (and slow) satellites, while the rest of the world has access to far quicker and cheaper submarine cables.
    Thus if we want to improve our access we need to be connected onto these submarine cables.

    Don't worry denford events are moving forward in that specific area as we speak and in the next year or so you should witness an increase in speed, quality and reliability and a decrease in the price for internet access

  2. Thanks a lot for the informative comment Farai. You obviously work in the industry and I appreciate your clarification.

    However, I believe that the basic premise of my article still holds:

    We are still in a position where government is deciding what the market should be deciding.

    Government is protecting the TelOne monopoly with this move, right?

    By doing so, they are ensuring that they remain in control of our communications. Put this together with the Interception of Communications Act, and you see exactly why this ban on new licences has been put in place.

    I am very sore with the government at the moment because Seacomm, the cable from Europe, has now landed in South Africa, in Nigeria and so on. The other day, a industry player in South Africa was on SABC telling the presenter that people in SA can now download a whole DVD in less than 5 seconds!!

    You see, if government was serious about making this country competitive, they should not be deciding for the market that there is "saturation" or anticipate for them that there will be no profits.

    Allow players to come in and set up under the Class A licences. They will pay for the infrastructure, won't they, so government wont have to fork out any money, but it will benefit immensely from the resultant efficiencies.

    All of a sudden, Zimbabwe could set itself up to become a leader in providing call centre services for companies based in Europe or even America.

    We are better suited to this since Zimbabweans who are now unemployed speak impeccable English and are technologically literate.

    I still believe that this is just an excuse to maintain a tight grip on our communications.

    I am very grateful for your technical explanations, but I believe that this is more a political decision than a technical one.

    Would you be interested in doing a guest post for me on the subject of the Seacomm cable and its potential impact on Zimbabwe and why it is that we are not allowing players in the industry to finance and roll out an expansion of this facility into Zimbabwe.

    It really would make us one of the foremost countries in Africa in one fell swoop.

    Thanks again for the explanation.

  3. Thanks Denford

    In response to your queries.

    1. Licenses
    POTRAZ has actually granted some IAP Class A licenses (about 6 If i recall). The requirements were extremely stringent to get them.
    The reason why applications suddenly increased is that so called political 'indigenous' businessmen started to realise the value in an IAP License and they wanted to jump on the bandwagon (or the gravytrain as you say!) This is exactly what happened in mining where they don't have the credentials/financing etc and they want to hold land.
    Unfortunately rolling out services will take 6 months (building base stations, fibre links etc)
    Trust me on this, these licensees are well funded, have the latest technology and will revolutionise telecomms in Zimbabwe!
    Check for a rollout of services by March-May 2010!
    In the meantime you and the readers can search on wikipedia for MoIP, and google a company called Yota (in russia) to see what i am talking about. This is the future and it will be coming to Zimbabwe!

    2. Seacomm
    Unfortunately since we are landlocked it is not easy to get access to submarine cables. It means that a fibre optic cable will have to be laid from a port on the coast to zimbabwe, a process which can take 4-6 months to do.
    I can assure that moves are already taking place to rectify it. Obviously i cannot disclose details but suffice to say that once again (as usual) it is the private sector spearheading change in Zimbabwe and not the government!
    Look for changes by June 2010!


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