January 13, 2017 / 9:41 AM / 10 months ago

Zimbabwe reverses telecoms price hike after public backlash

HARARE, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe has reversed a decision to impose a drastic increase in mobile phone data charges, which provoked an angry response from customers and critics who accused President Robert Mugabe’s government of trying to curtail the use of social media.

Last year activists used the Internet to mobilise the biggest anti-government protests in a decade, bypassing traditional opposition parties as anger grew over Mugabe’s handling of the economy.

Econet Wireless, the southern African nation’s largest mobile telephone company, raised data charges by a multiple of 25, in line with new regulations from the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe.

But Information Communication Technology Minister Supa Mandiwanzira said in a statement on Friday that the tariff increases were “shockingly high” and blamed mobile phone companies for “gluttonous corporate greed”.

Mandiwanzira said that the new prices had been proposed to the regulator by mobile phone companies.

Econet did not immediately respond to emailed questions.

“I have directed the immediate suspension of the tariff increases that were effected two days ago to the dismay of many mobile phone users,” Mandiwanzira said.

Econet’s cheapest data package, which came into effect on Wednesday night, gives users 10 megabytes of data for $1, compared with 250 megabytes per dollar previously.

Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Joe Brock and David Goodman

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