So last week we found out that Africa University and Econet had struck a specific deal that would allow AU students to have access to much cheaper data services due to the COVID-19 pandemic and all the social distancing and distance learning protocols it has caused. The arrangement has AU students being able to access rates as low as 2c per MB. It’s and admirable gesture from Econet but in a time like this, should it really be only afforded to one tertiary education institution? Or one educational intuition at all.
Now as the screen capture of the email above may have shown you, this arrangement was apparently put together by AU’s ICT department, which would explain why Econet made it with what’s considered the country’s wealthiest private university. And you may feel compelled to ask why UZ, NUST, HIT and so on aren’t making similar arrangements with telecoms providers but that’s not exactly the problem here. The problem, as we have already mentioned before, comes from the fact that in a time were the internet has become even more pivotal in the running of Zimbabwean lives, Econet and other internet providers have been jacking up data prices to capitalize on the chaos rather than make it easier for people to navigate these trying times like ISPs in other countries. And now at a time where it can gain back some good will (or even cash in on a few more customers for its data services) by offering these rates to every student at every tertiary(and maybe even secondary) education institution Econet chooses to side with a university it’s had lucrative dealings with for years and neglect students and customers who could arguably benefit a lot more from such an arrangement. And it’s not just Econet we should look at here, even Telecel and NetOne’s marketing or customer relations teams should be berated here because they’re sitting on their feet when they could be going out to educational institutions and doing the same. If these companies aren’t going to universally make internet access more affordable then they could at least make it accessible to the part of their customer base that a) makes them look good and b) actually can’t afford to continuously buy data because most of them don’t have their own income streams yet.
I personally keep bringing up the publicity benefit for this because of the fact that these companies likely won’t do anything like this out of the collective “goodness of their hearts”. After all while they haven’t directly listened to customer pleas to reduce data rates, they have recently introduced cost effective Wi-Fi bundles which most customers seem happy with (especially the Telecel ones, please keep them at those prices!), and the companies themselves obviously benefit from. So for all these companies it will remain a factor of benefit. And since POTRAZ doesn’t seem like regulating any of their behavior as of late, we can seemingly only watch as they seemingly do whatever they wish. Except even if that is the case assisting students in educational endeavors should be something telecom companies take pride in and push forward as a show of camaraderie and corporate responsibility. If Econet wants to keep arrangements like the one it has with AU, then they need to be open to every student at every university. And Telecel and NetOne need to stop sitting on their hands and join in on such an initiative. The world is at a point where knowledge and information are key, and that has always been the case in the educational sector. So these companies should be granting students the chance to keep acquiring knowledge even in these trying times, not charging a premium for it and taking away that chance in the process.