The high prices warranted an investigation into how they could be lowered by looking into any possible abuse of pricing regulation, Research ICT Africa has warned.
The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) charter regulations for new end user and subscriber services that came into effect on Friday oblige network operators to:
- allow the rollover of user’s unused data, if requested, beyond the validity period.
- allow the transfer of data between users if they send it to contacts on the same network.
- from mid-April allow users to opt out of out-of-bundle data charges.
- notify users of the depletion of their data bundles at 50%, 80% and 100% intervals.
But the cost of data remains high compared to other African countries.
In a country where mobile broadband had become the dominant means of access and where mobile operators claimed to have covered close to 100% of the population with their networks, Research ICT Africa said it would take policy implementation by government to ensure that the cost of data was made affordable to citizens and help them benefit from the digital economy and society.
“So if we expect South Africa to bring its entire population online as a first step to helping the country benefit from the digital economy and society, then reducing the costs of access is essential,” the organisation said.
It also said lack of leadership and dearth of policy implementation had left the mobile operators with the freedom to charge more than what coulsh be charged.
South Africa ranks 35th in Africa, out of 50 ranked countries, with an average 1GB prepaid mobile data charge of $7.84.
Egypt is the cheapest with a $1.13 charge for the same package.
The purchase of 1GB costs $1.19 in Namibia, $2.02 in Mozambique, $2.49 in Kenya, $2.62 in Ghana, $2.68 in Uganda, $2.79 in Nigeria, $3.55 in Zambia and $5.07 in Lesotho.
Among the network providers Telkom has consistently offered the cheapest 1GB prepaid mobile data bundle at R100, roughly $8.
The organisation said, however, all operators had contributed to the improvement of South Africa’s mobile broadband experiences with among the fastest networks on the continent.
“They compete only with Kenya and Morocco who both ranked better on the pricing index,” the organisation said.
With new market entrants such as Rain and Liquid Telecom, Cell C’s recapitalisation and development plans, as well as the newly struck roaming deals, Research ICT Africa believed that competition in the market would incentivise continued network investment and improvement.
“This would be made even better by the long-awaited assigning of the so-called ‘Digital Dividends’ spectrum bands desperately needed for the enhanced delivery of 4G services nationwide, reduced mobile broadband pricing and greater network coverage.”
In his budget speech Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said the communications minister would soon be issuing policy direction to Icasa for the licensing of spectrum. He promised to “work relentlessly” with the minister until the matter was resolved.
The Communications Ministry did not respond to questions on the plans and timeframes.