Mobile data tariffs in Zimbabwe have fallen from 12.5 cents to 5 cents per MB, with the internet expected to play a key role ahead of harmonised elections slated for July 30 this year.

The Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) said on Wednesday that USSD costs for epayments will also be lowered from 12.5c to 5c per session as Zimbabwe’s economy continues to grapple with currency woes.

But it is the data tariff cut that has been of big interest in Zimbabwe, which has an internet penetration rate of about 50%. The country’s citizens mostly access the internet using mobile gadgets as mobile data accounts for about 90% of internet access while Facebook and WhatsApp are the most popular internet applications accessed.

“The Out of bundle mobile data charges threshold shall be reduced from the current average rate of 12.5 cents per Megabyte to 5 cents per Megabyte exclusive of all taxes. This applies to internet/data that is used outside the WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter bundles among others,” Potraz said on Wednesday.

The tariff cut comes ahead of elections scheduled for July 30 to choose a new administration. Zimbabwean politicians have for the first time switched to online campaigning and those tech savvy enough are using social media bots for campaigning and engagement with constituencies.

Telecom industry executives say Zimbabwe witnessed a surge in data usage in November when the military took over power, culminating in the stepping down of long-standing leader, Robert Mugabe who was then replaced by current President, Emerson Mnangagwa.

The Zimbabwean telecom industry regulator said the tariff cut for mobile data, which takes effect on July 1 this year, is a result of the need to take “into account the prevailing economic environment as well as the competing needs of ensuring operator viability and service affordability” for consumers.

“These need to be balanced to ensure the delivery of high quality innovative services and applications which are critical in enhancing consumer welfare, business continuity and the country’s overall business competitiveness,” said Potraz.

It had engaged Detecon to carry out a cost modelling exercise and update an earlier tariff model undertaken in 2014. Mobile voice tariffs and charges for internet access through ISPs remain unchanged but will be subject to review in the short term outlook.

The re-engagement of Detecon to re-evaluate the costing structure for Zimbabwean telecom companies was on account of “emerging market trends in terms of changing consumer behaviour which is moving from being voice-centric to being data-centric”.

Technological advances have occasioned a shift in consumption of telecom services, with Over-The-Top services having a bigger impact on voice traffic. Mobile companies are having to shift focus to drive up revenue from mobile data, with Econet raising data revenue by 18% to $144.8m for the year to end February 2018.

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