Mobile operators say call, data prices are affordable

Parliament - South Africa’s mobile operators on Wednesday denied their call and data prices were unaffordable as they briefed MPs as part of public hearings on the cost to communicate.

Vodacom, cited by various groups as the most expensive network in the country, said call prices have dropped an effective 48 percent over the last three years while data prices have dropped by over 50 percent over the same period.

File picture: Damaris Helwig, Independent Media. Credit: INDEPENDENT MEDIA

“Firstly, I don’t think we see ourselves as the most expensive because I think a lot of things need to be taken into account,” said Zunaid Mahomed, Vodacom’s managing executive for product and commercial management.

“We focus on quite a few things. We focused on having the best network, trying to give customers the best maximum value, and actually having the best customer experience and we believe the combination of all three is what actually sets us apart from other networks and that actually drives customers to choose us over other networks.”

MTN executives told MPs a similar story, saying their call and data costs have been cut by 58 percent over the last few years.

MPs were however not convinced. Economic Freedom Fighters MP Fana Mokoena accused the mobile operators of pulling the wool over people’s eyes.

“The tariffs are too expensive. I know for a fact I would rather be in Tanzania, where Vodacom has operations, than be in South Africa. We know that Vodacom has the most extensive tariffs in the country,” said Mokoena.

“It is wrong that for a middle class person who has a contract, who can afford, that you giving them lesser tariffs…that the guy who doesn’t have a job, you costing them more.”

The Right2Know Campaign (R2K) also presented to MPs, calling on them to intervene to ensure that the poor, especially those in rural areas who have to stay in contact with breadwinners working in the cities, have access to affordable call and data services.

“I’m asking you to enable poor people in this country not to choose between eating and making a phone call to find out how their loves ones are doing,” said R2K’s Carlos Rey-Moreno.

R2K’s impassioned plea follows presentations from various interested parties, calling for increased regulation of call and data costs.

On Tuesday, Thabo Molefe, better known by his DJ name Tbo Touch – the man who initiated the #DataMustFall campaign, asked that data and call costs be slashed in half.

“Our proposal is simple. We never said data must be free. Currently networks are giving away free Whatsapp. If that’s possible they can cut the price in half.”

Molefe started his campaign last week by giving cellphone networks a 30-day ultimatum to make a change, or else subscribers would migrate to a cheaper service provider. Tuesday marked five days since the ultimatum was issued.

The #DataMustFall campaign was currently enjoying massive popularity on social media, trending on Twitter, with many people endorsing and supporting it, including politicians and celebrities.

Following the two days of public hearings MPs would discuss the submissions before submitting a report with proposals to the National Assembly for approval.