ECONET Wireless is battling to recover about US$80 million in interconnection fees from NetOne and TelOne and has threated to cut off its state-owned rivals if they fail to pay up.
The debt was revealed by Econet CEO Douglas Mboweni Wednesday during submissions to the Parliamentary committee on Media Information and Information Communication Technology development.
“One of the biggest challenges we have is that we continue to see non-remittance of interconnection fees by our colleagues in the industry,” Mboweni said.
“The figure is now an excess of US$85 million, some uncollected revenue we are taxed upon as Econet. I am just mentioning this so that you see the kind of pressure this kind of situation puts on us.”
In terms of an interconnection agreement between the telecoms firms, TelOne and NetOne are obliged to pay fees for traffic that terminates on Econet’s network and vice-versa.
“When it comes to interconnection, what normally happens is that when a call passes from for example from NetOne to Econet it passes through two networks it is generated in NetOne and then has to jump into an Econet structure, a standard practice that when it goes into our network we charge each other what we call an interconnection fee and that fee is seven cents,” the Econet boss said.
“What it presupposes is that when NetOne collect for example 18 cents or 20 cents for example from their subscriber, they have to pass seven cents to Econet and they remain with the difference, but what has been happening now is that they have been collecting the money and keeping the money to themselves.
“It means that they have collected the money from their subscribers and simply not passed on the money. We have told them it is better to pay up instead of having disruption in connectivity.”
Econet is Zimbabwe’s largest telecoms company in terms of subscriber numbers while NetOne now ranks number three behind Telecel despite having been giving its operator's licence ahead of its two rivals. NetOne and TelOne were formed after the government disbanded the former telecoms utility, the Post and Telecommunications Corporation (PTC).
Meanwhile Mboweni also said most of the company’s base stations around the country run on generators due to electricity supply problems.
"72 per cent of our base stations would be running on generators at any given time to keep the network reasonably operational. We have to ensure that the base stations are up and running or else there would be very bad connectivity," he said.
Mboweni said his company has invested US$614 million in infrastructure development since the introduction of dollarization in 2009 adding Econet continued to play a key role in the country’s economy in terms of job creation.
"Econet has contributed US$400 million to the fiscus. We have also created about 20,000 jobs indirectly and we also have about 50 students on industrial attachment," he said.
"We always aim to do better than the last achievement. The future lies in innovation; if we cannot be innovative we die.
"We also have to invest in infrastructure. There is no short cut in telecoms; and between 2009 and 2012 Econet has invested US$614 million in infrastructure development.