Cartoon: Bethuel Mangena/African News Agency(ANA)
Cartoon: Bethuel Mangena/African News Agency(ANA)

Lower data pricing is in line with democracy

By EDITORIAL Time of article published Dec 4, 2019

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Hours after the news that the Competition Commission had ordered two of South Africa’s largest mobile networks to cut the cost of their data bundles by 50%, and long-suffering consumers jumped for joy, the response from one of the networks was like that of a wet blanket.

Vodacom, in response, said it would study the Competition Commission verdict, pointing out differences between the commission’s final report and that of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa on issues which were critical to data prices.

South Africa’s mobile subscribers, at last count 90 million, have long complained over the cost of mobile data, for which they believed they were being fleeced, particularly by the two largest networks, Vodacom and MTN.

This was confirmed by the Competition Commission, which said: “The evidence, including the benchmarking assessments and profitability analyses, confirm that South Africa’s prices are too high.

“When considering prepaid mobile data prices, both existing international comparisons and research conducted by the commission confirm that South Africa performs poorly relative to other countries.”

Having lost a significant chunk of their voice and text revenue to apps like WhatsApp and Viber, South Africa’s mobile networks might feel justified in their data pricing, but we’re consuming more data than we did 10 years ago, and the barriers to accessing the internet should be lowered significantly.

In South Africa, which boasts the unenviable title of having the world’s biggest income inequality gap, being able to access the internet cheaply means being able to access opportunities from government services, and to jobs and educational opportunities that can lift one from poverty.

But mobile networks don’t see it like this; for them mobile subscribers are measured by “average revenue per user”, in which squeezing as much as possible from the existing base is preferred to expanding the size of the cake.

Simply put, accessing data over the internet should not be considered a privilege, but a right for all citizens.

Lower data prices will help to ensure that our democracy remains vibrant.

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