ICASA vows to fight high cost of data

Communications industry regulator ICASA has assured parliament it will fight for the high cost of data to come down‚ specifically targeting high out-of-bundle data costs and expiring data bundles.

ICASA said on Wednesday the high cost of communicating would be tackled in its new regulations‚ with South Africa said to have some of the highest costs of communication in the world.

 “The cost to communicate must come down‚ there is no two ways about it. And it must come down significantly” ICASA acting chair Ruben Mohlaloga told Parliament.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa appeared before Parliament’s select committee on communications and public enterprises to detail the high costs to communicate in South Africa.

Currently‚ only about 40% of South Africans have access to a smart phone or a tablet‚ but with this number growing each year‚ data usage is expected to exceed the use of voice services soon.

Of particular concern to ICASA are the high costs of out-of-bundle data and the expiry of data bundles after 30 days.

 Mahlalogo also said that those who bought smaller data bundles ended up paying more than those who could afford to buy bigger ones.

Mohlalogo told the committee that Vodacom charged R2 per megabyte for out-of-bundle data‚ while MTN charged 99 cents‚ Cell C R1.10 and Telkom 29 cents.

In contrast‚ Vodacom‚ Telkom and Cell C users who bought a 100 megabyte data bundle would pay just 29 cents and MTN users 35 cents per megabyte.

Buying a 10 gigabyte bundle lowers the cost even more drastically‚ with Vodacom and MTN users paying six cents per megabyte and Telkom and Cell C users paying five cents per megabyte.

A comparison of South Africa’s one and two gigabyte data bundle costs with other countries in the SADC region revealed that data costs in Tanzania‚ Malawi‚ Mozambique and Lesotho were all lower than in South Africa.

“There is no justification for operators to charge high out-of-bundle rates‚” ICASA’s Leweng Mphahlele told the committee.

He said operators incurred no extra costs to provide data out-of-bundle and as such‚ should not charge the “exorbitant” rates they do.

“ICASA is also of the opinion that data should not expire‚” he said.

Mphahlele said that according to the National Credit Act‚ vouchers‚ like data vouchers‚ should expire after three years and not 30 days.

He said ICASA was looking to address these issues in the revised end user and subscriber service charter regulations‚ which set out the minimum standards that service providers must adhere to protect the rights of users.

Ellen Prins‚ the chairperson of the committee‚ said service providers would be called to appear before the committee as South Africans needed effective and cheaper communication.

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