President Cyril Ramaphosa makes a quick lunch takeaway stop at the Palace Fisheries in Saltriver, Cape Town. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s commitment to reduce the cost of data, announced during the State of the Nation Address is commendable writes Greg Chen. Picture: Jairus Mmutle/GCIS
JOHANNESBURG - President Cyril Ramaphosa’s commitment to reduce the cost of data, announced during the State of the Nation Address is commendable, but it needs to be accompanied by firm action from both the private and public sector.

Low data costs are one of the most affordable, and also one of the most effective, ways of bringing people into the economy. With cheap internet access, people can learn and develop skills, find employment opportunities, and start and grow businesses.

Other less obvious benefits can also have a massive impact on the lives of low-income earners.

With readily available internet access, shoppers can find the best deals available and commuters can find the most efficient and affordable routes to and from their places of work. The cumulative savings from this information can be significant, especially for people struggling to get by every month.

But this ideal can only be achieved if the state and the private sector work in concert to make the president’s commitment a reality.

It’s fantastic that we’ll get policy clarity on the spectrum licensing process, but policy can only take you so far. Ultimately, the spectrum needs to be allocated and the process cannot be allowed to drag on any longer than it already has.

Spectrum allocation also shouldn’t prevent private sector players in the mobile and wider connectivity space from doing everything they can to make data affordable to all South Africans and to do so in a meaningful way.

Businesses can already start making massive changes to data affordability by employing data efficient collaterals in their digital space, and further reverse billing data for customers coming into their website or service.

This will open their business opportunities to millions more South Africans without having to wait for things to change on the macro-scale.

Ultimately, the time for platitudes is over and real action is needed.

Without affordable data access, South Africa risks falling behind, not only with the rest of the world, but the rest of the continent.

The government and the private sector have a unique opportunity to make internet access a reality for everyone in the country. They shouldn’t waste it.

Greg Chen is chief executive of Mobiz.