- In a move likely to have serious repercussions for the development of the telecommunications industry in Zimbabwe, the Harare government has called back to life the monopoly of its fixed phone company, TelOne, as the only legal gateway to all incoming and outgoing international communications services in the country.
According to the government gazette of 29 January, the Telecommunications Services Regulations 2004, states that any operator providing direct international telecommunication services must cease operations within the next 30 days and make appropriate measures to comply with the new regulations.
The government gazette provides that TelOne shall with effect from 31 January provide access to all international telecommunications services and provide international interconnection capacity to all other public licensed telecommunications including internet companies.
Telecommunications companies which fail to comply will be de-licensed according to the gazette. The government says that from the year 2000, several telecommunications companies operating in Zimbabwe have been providing illegal satellite services. This, the government argues was done through third parties who offer satellite based telecommunications through an international company Intel stat segments.
Information and Publicity Minister Jonathan Moyo says that such conduct has serious implications on the country's national security. The government further alleges that the companies were not remitting foreign currency earned back into the county, according to a report by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).
Meanwhile one of the affected companies, wireless phone operator, Econet Wireless, has filed an urgent chamber application in the High Court contesting the government's move, MISA researcher Zoé Titus reports.
Econet Wireless, through its lawyers Kantor and Immerman, cites the Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) and the Minister of Transport and Communications as the first and second respondents respectively.
According to the application, Econet is seeking an interdict for the government to stop interfering with its base stations, international gateways or any of its international telecommunications operations.
Econet is also seeking an interim relief to suspend provisions of the new regulations pending the full determination of the matter in the courts and also that the same be declared null, void and of no effect and application.
In the court papers, Econet has disputed TelOne's exclusive rights in providing access to international communications as this would be tantamount to reinstating the government's monopoly which was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998. Econet further argues that since TelOne is a competitor in the industry, the government is giving unfair advantage to its own company.
The telecommunications company also stated in its application that TelOne has no capacity to carry incoming and outgoing international traffic since its subscribers were failing to call oversees wireless phone numbers.
- The background to this and the chronology of events since 2000 demonstrated beyond doubt that the second respondent has always harboured a desire to close down the Applicant's (Econet)'s operations and the statutory element is therefore tailored to cover the applicant, argues Econet wireless in its court papers.
A manager with one of the wireless mobile phone companies, Telecell Zimbabwe, told the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation on 2 February that the regulations have serious repercussions for the development of the Information Communication Technologies (ICT's) in Zimbabwe.
He added that telecommunications companies in Zimbabwe have agreements with other outside companies which will be affected by the new regulations, Ms Titus reports.
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