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Ethio Telecom has now implemented a zero-rating policy for its popular mobile money platform, telebirr, allowing users to access key platform features, such as sending money and making payments, without incurring any data costs.

The telecommunications behemoth, introduced the new change around a month ago with the goal of encouraging a greater uptake of digital technology, fostering education in this field, and promoting broader exposure to the platform.

“We’re currently in the process of building an inclusive digital ecosystem together with other stakeholders. With the zero-rating, our aim is to narrow the digital divide, bridging the gap between those with access to digital technology and those without. We are eager for more people to learn about this platform and explore the possibilities it presents,” said Mesay Wubshet, Chief Communication Officer at Ethio Telecom.

Akofada (DFS Ethiopia)

Zero-rating refers to the practice of internet service providers and mobile service providers not charging users for data used by specific applications or services on their network.

“Establishing a connection and logging into the platform require data. This is a technical matter. However, once you are logged in, the data cost becomes zero-rated,” Mesay added.

Nonetheless, the zero rate only applies to telebirr’s main features and does not extend to the use of mini apps contained within the super app. “When users leave the telebirr super app and switch to the mini-apps, normal data fees apply,” Mesay explained to Shega.

Also, it’s only data usage that has become free of charge. Since November 2022, telebirr has implemented transaction fees, which users will incur when they send money using the platform.

telebirr has garnered over 32 million subscribers and facilitated more than 379 billion Birr (7 billion dollars) in transactions as of March 23, 2023. The platform is also integrated with various service-providing government and non-governmental organizations, including traffic penalty payments, the national fuel subsidy scheme, and other major national project payments.

Last week, the Finance Ministry stated that it was considering using telebirr to handle the payment of public employees’ salaries.

The latest development comes as Ethio Telecom braces itself for competition from M-PESA, which received a license to commence operations two weeks ago.

Two years ago, Safaricom similarly launched its MPESA super app with an “Offline Mode” feature, enabling customers to use the app even without data bundles or when offline.

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Kaleab Girma, an Addis Ababa-based reporter and researcher, with over six years of experience in the field. He currently serves as Shega's Editor-in-Chief and specializes in reporting on small businesses, innovation, technology, and startups in Ethiopia.

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