Econet Wireless, the country’s largest mobile phone service provider last night reversed its decision to terminate interconnection services to State-owned NetOne over a US$20 million debt. This came after NetOne challenged the decision at the High Court in a case brought under a certificate of urgency last night.
Econet rescinded its decision after Justice Ben Hlatshwayo had expressed concern about the inconvenience caused to the public.
Both parties’ lawyers, Mr Harrison Nkomo and Mr Collin Kuhuni representing Econet and NetOne respectively, confirmed the latest development. Mr Nkomo said Econet’s decision to restore services to NetOne was unilateral.
“Econet has taken a unilateral decision to reconnect NetOne considering both the negative impact on the subscribers and the unreasonable stance that NetOne took of disregarding the impact of the disconnection,” said Mr Nkomo. He said although they appeared before Justice Hlatshwayo, no order was made.
However, Mr Kuhuni said the legal wrangle is not over as the matter will be heard in court in due course.
“The basic position is that the chairman of Econet (Mr Tawanda Nyambirai) has agreed to reconnect NetOne immediately and he has been given a postponement . . . to enable Econet to file their response to our application,” said Mr Kuhuni.
At the High Court, Mr Kuhuni said, NetOne is seeking an order compelling Econet to immediately reconnect it. “We believe that the decision to disconnect us unilaterally was illegal,” said Mr Kuhuni.
Last night, Potraz director general, Engineer Charles Sibanda said: “Every licencee is expected to interconnect. This is an issue that involves the shareholder and we will wait for the parent ministry (Transport, Communication and Infrastructural Development) to react to it first.
“The law is very clear that if the two companies fail to agree on interconnection agreement they have to come to the regulator. On the issue of debts, we have nothing to do with them. If they fail to agree they can go to the Arbitration Court.”
Subscribers of both Econet and NetOne were yesterday shocked to be informed of the disconnections without notice. They could not make calls across the two networks. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe yesterday morning immediately called upon Econet to restore full service to subscribers.
It said Government was supposed to intervene to ensure that Econet restored the essential services between the two network providers.
Earlier on its widely publicised statement, Econet, with about 6,4 million subscribers had said it had an agreement with NetOne for local traffic termination under which the operators would pay US7c per minute for calls going into each other’s network. But NetOne reportedly failed to remit accumulated monthly fees due to Econet.
From May 2009 to date, it made payments that were “way below” what was due from Econet. The amount due and owing to Econet as at 31st July 2012 is US$20,412,109 excluding interests.
“As a direct result of the repudiation, Econet regrets that . . . it will have no choice but to terminate all interconnection services to NetOne under the repudiation agreement,” said Econet in the statement.
Earlier on NetOne managing director, Mr Reward Kangai, had said “he wanted enough time to respond” to the position Econet had taken. NetOne, according to Econet, says it has no obligations due to Econet with regards to interconnection fees.
Econet said it tried to engage Potraz and the Government to intervene when it had become “obvious” that NetOne had reneged on its obligations under the agreement entered between the two.
“Econet, as a public company, has duty to safeguard the interests on the investing public and it has patiently allowed NetOne to disregard its financial obligations for a period of more than three years and it can not offer free service to NetOne in perpetuity,” said the company.
Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Transport, Communications and Infrastructure Development, Mr Munesu Munodawafa, said it was too early for Government to comment on the matter. He said Potraz was handling the dispute and would brief it soon.
“The interconnection of services between networks is a legal issue and Potraz is dealing with it,” he said. “We cannot usurp Potraz’s powers because they have a legal provision to deal with the matter. We will talk to Potraz first before we comment.”
In a statement yesterday, CCZ said it was concerned by the denial of service to subscribers by Econet.
“CCZ has indicated in many instances the need for consumer focus and good customer service, both sadly deficient in the provisioning of communication service in Zimbabwe,” said CCZ chairman, Mr Philip Bvumbe.
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