We recently hosted an event on data costs in South Africa (#datamustfall), to discuss why data prices have not fallen and how South Africa can achieve free internet access.
South African citizens and civil society organisations have been fighting the country’s contentiously high data costs — According to the latest Competition Commission, the latest benchmarking data from Research ICT Africa also shows that South Africa performs unfavourably against other African countries.
We recently hosted a Food for Thought breakfast session to discuss #datamustfall, and how organisations are approaching the issue of data costs in South Africa. Koketso Moeti from Amandla.mobi, who have made submissions to Competition Commission on #datamustfall; Izak Minnaar, an independent consultant who is working several organisations such as Media Monitoring Africa to look into how South Africa can achieve universal internet access and free public access; and Tim Genders, COO of Project Isizwe, who are managing one of the largest free Wi-Fi projects in Africa shared their thoughts and ideas about the data costs in South Africa.
From the speakers’ presentation, one core theme kept emerging, the poor are still paying more for data and this is caused by a number of factors. The high data prices further the inequality gap that South Africa is facing and further increases the digital divide.
Commenting on the #datamustfall movement Tim Genders explained how Data MustFall is a valid movement. “There are no price correlations between data service providers in South Africa and they are charging the poor 80% more for data; Inequality being the biggest issue in SA, only 10 % of phones have internet piped into them in South Africa, the rest of the citizens depend on mobile data which is unaffordable,”said Genders.
Minnaar said to promote digital equality in South Africa, South Africa needs to consider a rights-based approach to the data prices, “the internet should be a basic right, it should be universal and there should be the free option of the internet to those who cannot afford,” explained Minnaar.
The concerning factors
Moeti explained that the factors such as the lack of spectrum, service provides offering differently priced contracts (Contract users get good deals of data and only a few get to qualify for contracts, Many SA don’t qualify and depend on prepaid), technology, infrastructure, profiting, lack of political power are affecting the fight against high data costs.
Moeti said we need the internet for the poor because different groups have different data needs. So Amandla.mobi made a submission to the Competition Commission requesting that service providers enable data rollover so that data does not expire as the poor cannot afford to keep buying data. They have requested transparency from service providers when it comes to different data options because price discrimination furthers inequality as a lot of activities or opportunities are online and it limits access to information and opportunities to others.
She said one of the reasons data is so expensive in South Africa is due to the normalisation of profit maximization. “Network providers have been unable to justify the high charges of internet and the same network providers are charging lowers prices in other countries like Uganda.
What should South Africa be doing?
To fully understand the rights-based approach to data costs and access to the internet Minnaar and the South African online and media industry bodies, the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF), the Interactive Advertising Bureau South Africa (IABSA) and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), with the support of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) have put together a seven-point plan for universal and free access to the internet in South Africa.
The plan includes free public access at government sites; zero-rated access to government websites and data; free public wi-fi; provision of free basic internet as a basic municipal service; digital literacy programmes; minimum protections in the provision of free access and oversight and monitoring of the progressive realisation of free access. (You can read more on the seven-point plan HERE)
Minnaar adds that for this plan to work there should be a focus on public interest and a rights-based approach, it would require coordination among relevant stakeholders, appropriate regulatory and policy framework, prioritisation of vulnerable and marginalised groups, addressing socio-economic divides, coverage, oversight, public-private partnerships.
Moeti expands on her earlier points, “People from low income should be prioritised in the fight against data prices and moving forward customers must get good value for their money.”
“Connectivity issues discussed in SA address issues faced by the 10% of the rich neglecting the 90%, what we should be doing is making the internet more accessible to the 90% poor population including the rural parts of the country,” explains Genders.
As we move forward, Genders says we should ask ourselves “what is the cost of not being online for regular South Africans.”