Increases in data costs announced this past week have a negative impact on many sectors of
the Zimbabwean society especially students and informal sector businesses which rely on
internet for research and social media to reach customers respectively.
Barely a week after Econet increased its data costs Netone also announced the new costs of
purchasing their data packages. Telecel is expected to follow suit soon. Zimbabweans are at
the mercy of the profit motive of the internet market which is controlled by only seven major
internet service providers. The fact that these same private sector companies control the
country’s internet infrastructure means that government has little power to intervene on
consumers behalf. It also means that the country’s internet infrastructure and business model
is beholden to the debt recovery interests of private creditors who financed the development
of the infrastructure. These continuous price increases by the Telecoms give credence to calls
for the government to impose caps on data price increases to ensure that all Zimbabweans
enjoy the right to access the internet. Ordinary citizens who can hardly afford basics, more
than half of whom are living in extreme poverty are heavily impacted and thereby left behind.
The world has become digital, and Zimbabwe is not spared. Zimbabweans deserve to access
information and one of the channels being the internet. Section 62 of Zimbabwe’s
Constitution stipulates that every citizen has the right to access information. The rate that
data costs have continued to rise leaves others behind and will increase the inequality gap
between the rich and the poor with devastating generational implications.
Data Increase Key Concerns
Data costs continue to skyrocket in Zimbabwe beyond the reach of many ordinary citizens
whose disposable incomes are already depressed.
Data or Food
According to ZimStat, an average family of 6 needs ZWL36,918 per month for food as at
January 2022. The average salary for civil servants has remained constant at ZW$30,000. This
means that Internet access then becomes a luxury.
Data – is it For the Many or The Few?
Low-income earners who constitute the majority are the hardest hit by high mobile data tariffs
in Zimbabwe. The data regime is pushing for online spaces to be a preserve of the few and
not the many.
Data Tariffs vs Access to Internet
Universal access to internet in Zimbabwe is still far from reality in Zimbabwe. The average
salary for civil servants has remained the constant at ZW$30,000. Everyone needs guarantee
of internet access.
Business vs Human Rights
The cost of data has a direct impact on one’s ability to access internet and ultimately access
to information. Access to information is a basic human right which most Zimbabweans are
denied by high data costs.
Table 1: Data costs by service
Network Provider 25GB Cost US$ Price (Auction rate
Econet ZW$6,600 US$57
NetOne ZW$6,500 US$56
Telecel ZW$6,000 **(20GB)** US$52
The high data costs have heavily impacted the education sector by further widening the digital
gap between students in private schools and those in government schools. With the COVID19 pandemic which affected the school calendar, most schools were conducting online lessons
leaving behind the children from less privileged families.
Who exactly is to blame for the increase in data tariffs in Zimbabwe? Private sector players
cite various reasons to justify the price increases including price adjustments by the Postal and
Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), rising operating costs,
power-cuts and extensive vandalism of its infrastructure.
As long as the telecoms and internet sector are dominated by a monopolist interest in a
context of poor regulatory oversight and weak consumer protection mechanism, rising
internet charges will continue making poor Zimbabweans even poorer