Revised Starlink policy for sustainable growth: A dedication to Eng. Chemist Siziba

By Robert Ndlovu

Honourable Minister of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services, all protocols observed, please receive a request from a group of interested players in telecoms and ICT space.

I must be candid: the current operation of seizing and fining end users who import Starlink kits into Zimbabwe for personal use is unsustainable and counterproductive.

My investigations have identified eight major distributors in Harare, Johannesburg, Lusaka, Beira, Livingstone, and Lagos. Attempts to gain cooperation from other jurisdictions have no guaranteed outcomes. We are not on good terms with one country for crying out loud.

This approach is proving to be a losing battle. Not only are POTRAZ and ZIMRA missing out on potential licensing fees and taxes, but you’re also stifling innovation. I understand the security concerns, but these are not unique to Starlink. Existing VSAT operators already have the infrastructure for peering and piggybacking. Why not explore this option?

Furthermore, registered telecom players are at risk of significant revenue loss if they continue to offer substandard services that don’t meet acceptable SLAs. As official resellers, we want these businesses to thrive, but this becomes increasingly difficult under the current conditions.

I propose a sensible solution:

  • Allow registered operators who are up-to-date with ZIMRA to distribute kits at POTRAZ-regulated prices.
  • Allocate a sizable chunk to special interest groups like women, youth and the physically impaired.
  • E-learning and Telemedicine, and consider a temporary measure to license individuals who have already imported Starlink equipment. This would allow for KYC, tracking (serial numbers, GPS, IP blocking) and better situation management. Maximum data tariffs to be set by the provider may be based on licensee class etc. Other operators who are struggling will overcharge.

Elon Musk does not use RTGS so, the USD is the only viable option. I am certain the treasury and Finance ministry will jump onto integrating the purchases and subscriptions of the new tax system.

I thought the country wanted forex! Here we go. Most of these buyers are based in the diaspora.

History and the current technological landscape necessitate a proactive stance. Remember, VoIP was once deemed illegal, and look at its role today! As long as telcos, ISPs, and MNOs avoid providing coverage in remote Zimbabwean areas, people will continue to import Starlink kits, especially with kit prices rapidly decreasing.

The time has come for a workaround; technology waits for no one. Let’s convene all stakeholders to address concerns openly and ensure Zimbabwe doesn’t fall behind in technological advancement. MOPSE has plans to launch the Zimbabwe Virtual School of remote learning and live streaming of educational content. How do they do this with unconnected and offline schools?

Some of us have no intention of returning to the days of dial-up (internet connection using phone line at 9.6kbps). Yes in fact any low-orbiting provider must be given a chance but which one? It will be worth everyone’s while to know how many satellites each satellite operator has in orbit and you will get it. With the growth of AI, data science, and machine learning, we cannot afford to miss out on opportunities. Soon, Android devices will even function as satellite terminals. How will we manage that situation?

I am certain that all operators would welcome this. But if they think otherwise, the postage stamp and postman will soon be joined by others who resist inevitable technological disruption.

Robert Ndlovu | | +263 77 600 2605

Rest in Peace Hwanqa!

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