File picture: AP

Johannesburg - Network providers have been told: Cut data costs or the authorities will do it for you.

The no-nonsense warning came from Parliament, where a committee has been discussing the reality that South African data costs are among the highest in the world.

Mmamoloko Kubayi, chairwoman of Parliament’s portfolio committee on telecommunications and postal services, said yesterday that network operators have just over a month to get their act together. Either they trim data costs or the National Assembly will order them to do so.

“Operators can individually restructure their data plans between now and November or wait for our recommendation when we would make a pronouncement on what should happen with the high data prices,” said Kubayi.

There’s been a public outcry over the high costs of data, with mobile networks coming under severe criticism on social media following the #DataMustFall campaign.

The movement, spearheaded by radio presenter Tbo Touch, real name Thabo Molefe, announced on Thursday that he has been invited by Parliament’s portfolio committee on telecommunications to address them next week on broadband costs.

Part of the #DataMustFall campaign focuses on how much data costs in other countries as against data costs in South Africa.

Data prices in the country are much higher than those in other countries on the continent and in the world. While 1GB (gigabyte) of data costs R11 in India, R22 in Nigeria and R32 in Namibia, South Africans are paying a whopping R150 per GB.

Yesterday, the telecommunications and postal services chairwoman urged operators to reduce their mobile data prices.

“If they do not get back to us by November with restructured data plans, the committee will compile a report and send it to the National Assembly,” said Kubayi.

On Friday, South Africa’s three major mobile networks, MTN, Vodacom and Cell C, couldn’t confirm whether they would be reducing their data prices before the November deadline.

However, Vodacom has said it is committed to price transformation. “We are working with all stakeholders to accelerate progress on top of the significant progress we have made in our pricing transformation strategy so far,” it said.

“It is important to note that, in 2015 alone, the average price our customers paid for data fell by 13.6 percent.”

According to a recent study, South Africans spend almost 25 percent of their salary on internet usage, well above the international telecommunication union’s guideline of 5 percent.

The parliamentary committee conducted a two-day hearing this week on the country’s mobile data costs.

Submissions were heard from the Department of Communications, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), civil society organisations, telecoms operators and the public on the cost to communicate using mobile data. The hearing was marked by probing questions and rebuttals from mobile networks.

During the hearing, MTN told Parliament that it had decreased voice and data tariffs by 58 percent and 73 percent respectively over the past five years, despite an increase in costs due to a struggling economy.

But Kubayi said MTN failed to answer when asked why their data prices in South Africa were so high, while their Ghana mobile data prices were very low.

“They couldn’t tell us. They said they would go and check their numbers and revert back,” said Kubayi.

Vodacom was also called for an explanation on why their data “disappears”.

Vodacom's executive head of innovation, Jannie van Zyl, told Parliament that faster networks, better phones and consumers’ own habits have all led to the perception that data is “disappearing”. “Data cannot disappear. It is consumed by your handset,” Van Zyl told the committee.

Saturday Star