During April 2019, all 3 of Zimbabwe's mobile networks decided to increase their Internet data pricing. These announcements were met with widespread outcry and complaints by Zimbabweans who highlighted that the data price increases were unjustified.
"In February this year, the Reserve Bank devalued the local RTGS dollar against the United States dollar. Since that announcement, Internet service providers and mobile network operators have increased data costs in the name of realigning their prices to the 'correct' United States dollar value. These recent increases ignore the fact that even before the official devaluation in February, Internet service providers, and mobile network providers had already implemented several data cost increases in the name of coping with rising inflation and service delivery costs," reads a statement by MISA Zimbabwe, a civil society organization that focuses on promoting a free, independent and diverse pluralistic media.
Internet access pricing in Africa
Although organizations such as Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) have come up with formulas and comparative Internet access pricing for every African country, reality is that it is more nuanced and complex than just a straightforward GB for GB comparison. One factor that is critical in determining Internet access affordability is what percentage of the median income does the cost of 1GB / month make up. This is important as income levels vary in each country and as such, what might on paper appear as affordable in comparison to another country, might in effect, for citizens, still be expensive. A good example is that the current Internet data price increases put Zimbabwe at almost the same pricing of $11/GB per month with South Africa, but given lower average income levels, this is very expensive for citizens.
The other critical factor that is often missed when comparing Internet access pricing between African countries is Quality of Service (QoS) and availability of service. Although 1GB might be cheaper in one country in comparison to another, of what good is it if you can only get 36/4G service in one or two city centers and when you travel to the rest of the country's regions you barely get 2G signal?
The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) issued a report that as of 31 December 2018, 8,7 million Zimbabweans had access to the Internet, with majority accessing it from mobile devices. In a country with an estimated population of 17 million and tough economic times that have seen steep increases in prices of common goods over the past few years, this means that the majority of Zimbabweans are going to feel the pinch while some could be at risk of having to reconsider their Internet usage.
Cover image credit: Downtown Harare Zimbabwe. ilf_/Flikcr