Communications Minister says internet shut down now resolved

By Lance Guma
13 March 2009

Zimbabwe has had limited or no internet access for almost 2 weeks now, after the government parastatal responsible for the national internet gateway, ComOne, was disconnected for non-payment of fees. There has been widespread chaos, especially at the Beitbridge border post with the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) failing to clear imported vehicles because they require internet based evaluations. There are long queues of trucks waiting for clearance. Some journalists working inside the country have also been failing to file their stories to outside news agencies.

Information and Communications Technology Minister, Nelson Chamisa, says he summoned officials from the state owned TelOne to explain the collapse of the internet system, after representatives from the Internet Service Providers, ZIMRA and the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries complained about disruption to their operations. Chamisa says the problem was caused by ‘certain hitches related to payment’ of the account and that the back up facility for the microwave link to Beitbridge also stopped working. ‘By tomorrow (Saturday) things will be better’ he told Newsreel, saying a partial payment of the account had been made.

Experts say Zimbabwe relies on two ComOne paths for data traffic flowing out of the country. On the morning of Monday the 2nd March the most important of these stopped working after being cut off for non payment. This left only one outbound route, which goes through 6 South African connections. These microwave links unfortunately have always been unreliable because of a much smaller capacity and are frequently affected by load shedding. When the two ComOne routes are down e-mails will not flow into or outside the country, nor is it possible to browse sites outside Zimbabwe.

The problem for most private internet service providers is that they are required to use ComOne, as it is the only gateway out of Zimbabwe. Those who are able to use their own links still occasionally resort to ComOne for ‘low priority overflow traffic which is encrypted for security.’ So everyone was affected by the disconnection, although nternal emails were not too badly affected.

Meanwhile Chamisa told us he had issued a directive to TelOne to reverse the unreasonable phone charges being billed to landline customers. He said it did not make sense to send people US$600 telephone bills when the government itself was paying civil servants US$100. He said those bills are going to be cut by significant margins and communication in this regard will be issued in coming days.


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