A report in today’s Herald says the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) has so far used the Universal Service Fund to install just 11 base station sites around the country, and plans to install 43 more in the coming 2 years.
The Universal Service Fund is a pool of money contributed to by all licensed operators – mobile operators, Internet Access Providers, and the fixed line operator – and part of its purpose is to fund the rollout of passive telecoms infrastructure in underserved areas in the country. Operators contribute 2% of their annual gross turnover to the fund. Recent reports suggest that POTRAZ has collected as much as US $41.3 Million USF cash since 2009 when the country dollarized.
According to the report today, of the 11 sites that have been installed, only 2 are currently “on air” while rest are awaiting “completion of microwave transmission installations”.
If you are wondering how on earth the organisation has only managed to install 2 operational base station sites with the fund, you’re not alone. There’s been so much concern about the fund to the extent Econet, the largest telecoms firm in the country and no doubt the largest contributor to the fund, questioned the fund’s relevance, complained that no meaningful development had come from the fund and called for it to be scrapped.
While Econet clearly has a commercial agenda to keep as much of the money they make as they can, POTRAZ really has been slow to implemented the USF fund as it should. Even sadder is POTRAZ proud proclamation that it will take another 2 years just to install 43 sites.
Surprisingly, POTRAZ says the 2 years tortoise pace to install 43 towers is due to them not having enough money for base stations. “Construction of towers at the 43 sites is likely to span over two years since the USF cannot fund all of them in one year, given that the USF is also funding other projects such as the Schools Connectivity project and some deserving postal projects,” POTRAZ Deputy Director General, Alfred Marisa, is quoted in the article.
It would be great if POTRAZ disclosed just how much its Postal licensees contribute to the USF to make this allocation of money to postal projects justifiable. And the Schools Connectivity project, what exactly is this project about? It would also help us understand them better if they explained what happened to the 8 sites they promised they’d complete by end of 2011. Are these part of the 11 we’re talking about now, most of which haven’t completed? If that’s so, what says the 2 year time period promised us now for the 43 sites will be stuck to?
POTRAZ already has a USF projects page on their website, which so far they keep empty. It would help if they posted all such information there as they clearly intended to, so we all know what we’re paying for. Otherwise, yes, just scrap it!