A JUDGE branded Econet “irresponsible” on Monday and warned Zimbabwe’s biggest mobile phone operator risked a contempt of court charge after it terminated interconnection services with state-owned rival, NetOne, just hours before a High Court hearing.
Econet first terminated interconnection services with NetOne last Thursday over a US$19.2 million debt, making it impossible for calls between the two networks.
The Strive Masiyiwa-owned company had reconnected NetOne pending the court case – but the truce only held until 10AM Monday, just a few hours before lawyers for the two companies were due in court.
Justice Ben Hlatshwayo told Advocate Firoz Girach for Econet: “Out of respect of this court, the disconnection should not have been done. We should be sitting here knowing the public is connected.
“Simply disconnecting members of the public without warning is irresponsible. Members of the public are busy going about their business then they are suddenly disconnected.”
Justice Hlatshwayo said ideally, reconnection should not be ordered by the court, but Econet should exercise corporate responsibility.
NetOne managing director Reward Kangai and the firm’s lawyer Advocate Ray Goba said they learnt of Econet’s action in court, although they were aware of a text message sent out to Econet’s 6.5 million customers over the weekend warning of the planned switch-off.
Advocate Girach told the judge: “NetOne want to utilise services without payment, they have talked about everything else except the issue of payment.
“TelOne is in the same position, but they have come up with a payment plan.
“If you want to engage in commerce you must pay for what you get. Tell us how you are going to pay, it is not a bullying tactic to say pay me my money.”
But Advocate Goba, for NetOne, said Econet’s action “typifies the behavior of a bull in a China shop”.
NetOne also disputes the level of its indebtedness to Econet for interconnection fees dating back to 2009.
Telecommunications networks interconnect to one another domestically and internationally. When two networks want to interconnect to one another, they enter into an agreement known globally as an interconnection agreement.
The companies set the cost of terminating a call on each other’s network under guidelines set by regulator, the Zimbabwe the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz).
The rates are seven cents per minute for all domestic calls and 20 cents per minute for international calls.
Econet said it had entered into an agreement with NetOne for domestic calls and accuses the latter of breaching the contract.