3 January 2009

Zimbabwe: Econet Subscribers Caught Unawares

Harare — ECONET subscribers were yesterday caught unawares when their mobile phones could neither phone nor top up their accounts after the cellular service provider switched them to the new foreign currency payment regime.

Subscribers to other networks face the same fate as NetOne and Telecel are also charging in United States dollars after cellular service providers were granted foreign currency licences by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe under the Foliwars programme.

Yesterday Econet subscribers on the Buddie, Libertie and Business Partna packages briefly accessed the mobile phone services during lunchtime before these were abruptly terminated.

In a survey conducted, subscribers who were battling to recharge their mobile phones expressed dismay at the sudden loss of service.

"I have been trying to use my phone since yesterday evening, but the service is just bad.

"I cannot get through to dialled numbers and no messages are going through," said one of the several subscriberrs who besieged the company's branch along First Street in Harare.

Weston Kadya, another subscriber who was battling to recharge his phone after buying a US$5 recharge card, said he was worried that the new payment mode would be unaffordable for many subscribers.

"The new system would be a problem for many subscribers who, firstly, cannot afford the new tariffs and, secondly, for the few who can afford, the new charging regime is unfamiliar to many of us," he said.

Other subscribers said the new charging system was unfortunate because the little foreign currency they come across was usually used for basic commodities.

"Mobile phones, which many of us believed were an essential and convenient service, could end up being for the rich people only because ordinary people would not be able to afford the services," Catherine Chawaguta of Mabvuku said.

Tinei Gede of Kambuzuma said mobile phones would now became "nhare mbozha (a preserve for the rich)".

A customer services officer at Econet Wireless in the city centre, however, said the brief access to service by many subscribers was due a slight lag in upgrading and subscribers be debited for using the service during that period.

"The system is currently down and that period was just a loophole and I think most of the people who phoned during that period have had their accounts debited," he said.

Econet Wireless corporate communications manager Mr Ranga Mberi on Wednesday said the service provider was still upgrading its system and the system would be back to normal today.

"We have been engaged in a major network updating since yesterday in the evening and this has disrupted the whole system," he said.

Mr Mberi said while the upgrading had affected all networks, the exercise would be complete by the date when the new charging system comes into effect.

While most of the networks have told their customers that the new charging system would start today, subscribers complained that airtime already in their phones had been converted from Zimbabwe dollars to foreign currency yesterday.

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