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R2K calls for action against high data costs

R2K calls for action against high data costs.
R2K calls for action against high data costs.
Image: Free stock image/pixabay

Everyone should get a free basic amount of airtime and data in the same way that we have free basic water and electricity‚ Right2Know recommended on Wednesday at the Competition Commission's data market inquiry public hearing.

Regulatory authority Icasa should also regulate the cost of airtime and data to stop profiteering‚ the activist group said.

In addition‚ cell phone companies should improve the quality of service‚ including network outages‚ dropped calls‚ calls that don’t connect‚ and data coverage.

The range of numbers that are free to call (like police and ambulance) should be increased to include schools and hospitals‚ said R2K.

In its submission to the Competition Commission‚ R2K argued that "the outrageous cost of communication in South Africa is undermining people’s basic rights to access and share information – their right to communicate".

"South Africa has one of the most expensive data prices in the world‚ even when adjusted for cost of living. To put this into perspective‚ India only charges R11 for 1GB‚ Nigeria charges R22‚ Ghana R71‚ Russia R24 and Vodacom in Tanzania charges R98 for 1GB but R149 in South Africa‚" R2K stated.

"South Africa has the second highest data contract prices compared to other BRICS-member countries (namely Brazil‚ China‚ India‚ Russia). South African data prices are 134% more expensive than the cheapest data prices in the group.

"Even at R99‚ Telkom have not managed to exert price pressure on MTN and Vodacom. This cuts out almost half of South Africans who are unable to afford the high price points of these major players."

The group said only 34% of South Africa’s population were online‚ with high data costs being the biggest barrier.

"R2K maintains that the high cost of communication in South Africa is directly linked to systemic failures of policy and implementation by government‚ and lack of regulation and competition in the telecommunications industry‚" the submission states.

Its other recommendations for regulatory bodies and policymakers include making SMS a free service‚ "as SMSes cost the operators almost nothing to transmit"‚ and that data bundles should not expire if they are unused.

The Competition Commission inquiry is examining what factors may cause or lead to high prices for data services‚ and to establish whether data supply quality and coverage is adequate by international standards and in terms of the country’s developmental needs. The commission will publish a report at the conclusion of its inquiry.

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