The Potraz of yesteryear used to hog the limelight for all the wrong reasons. One of their major move was jumping from one ministry to the other depending on who had stronger political muscle, to control the heavy purse.
The titan issue was when it was handpicked to fund the 2013 presidential election using licence fees which basically Econet contributed and yes we remember the parliamentary challenge that Econet made over the Universal Service Fund(USF) usage and they were politely told to go to hell.
Potraz is also alleged to have bought Telecel for $10million, using Econet’s contribution, with little help from NSSA, a story for a different day.
Speaking of the USF, this was established by an Act of Parliament [Postal and Telecommunications Act (Chap.12:05)] of 2000 and the fund was vested in the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) as a trustee.
Zimbabwe Mobile Network Operators are required to contribute 2% of their gross profit towards the Universal Service Fund.
Potraz has collected over $120 million since the introduction of the multi-currency system in 2009 under the USF.
In addition to the $120 million, the USF also generated $10,6 million in interest from investments.We are however not yet sure how much they may have lost to the Innovation drive due as a result of currency imbalances, eroding bank balance over unallocated funds.
The objectives of the fund are:
- To standardise postal and telecommunication services and to maintain high standards of quality in the provision of such services.
- To make grants to local authorities or their appointed agents for the purpose of assisting needy persons to obtain access to postal and telecommunication services.
- To finance or assist in financing the extension of postal and telecommunications services to under-serviced areas and community centres within or outside such areas.
- To assist in the training of persons in the provision of postal or telecommunication services.
- To promote and contribute towards research and development in the field of postal and telecommunication services.
- To promote and contribute towards the expenses of the adaptation or facilitation of the use of telecommunication services for the benefit of disabled persons, including the provision without charge of the directory information services appropriate to meet the needs of such persons.
- To encourage and facilitate, for the benefit of Zimbabwe, the transfer of telecommunication technology, in accordance with an annual implementation plan prepared by the authority in consultation with cellular telecommunication, postal and telecommunication licences and the appropriate successor company.
Potraz finally is furthering the advancement of technology having done 20 shared base stations so far. Most of them only in the last 5 years, This is a good start but one wonders what else, the institution preoccupied with since its formation in March 2001.
Potraz through USF and support from its partners, has installed base stations targeting border areas and remote communities so as to bridge the network gap and ensure universal access after a network coverage study conducted by Potraz in 2016 established that 314 wards, hosting 354 000 households and a total population of 2 million people, had no access to basic telecommunication services.
The regulator has now set a new target to reach a number of 250 base stations, sounds too huge, but at the current pase, its very much achievable.
To date USF has funded and constructed 20 shared base station sites countrywide. Mashonaland West benefited from this project as one (1) site was constructed at Gatshegatshe.
A total number of five Moran sites have been erected, and they will be shared by three operators ( NetOne, Econet and Telecel) who initially offer 2G and 3G services which the authority planned to implement the project as a build and transfer public private partnership.
While the government has continually spoken of the need for telecommunications network service providers to fully comply with the infrastructure sharing thrust, there has not been much action on the ground, resulting in a number of areas not assessing these ICT based services.
If the government had constructed its own babsestations years ago, Zimbabwe would have been an ICT power house, without any need to force operators to share infrastructure like we saw in the last years, but rather , it would be availing its already existing platform to them.
This would have saved millions of dollars wasted by independent operators, who to date are still competing on infrastructure not overlay network services.