Can you imagine your life without being able to use the internet? For far too many, the answer is yes. This is simply because they cannot afford data, like Andile, who is unemployed and bought a smartphone to look for a job. Though he knows of websites where job opportunities are listed, he has struggled to make use of them because data is just too expensive .
But Andile is not the only person struggling with the cost of data. Across the country many people are struggling to keep in touch with their friends and families, or are unable to complete projects because data remains prohibitively expensive. And a lack of access will continue to hold people back as internet access is needed to register a business, apply for schools in Gauteng and even to access certain jobs . Public services are also increasingly improving their responsiveness online, which means that those unable to access the internet may be unable to report issues or access critical services. Yet South Africa’s data costs are among the highest in the world .
But we can change this. Already communications regulator ICASA has published draft regulations that, if implemented in final form, will prevent networks from expiring users’ data for up to 24 months . And now the Competition Commission has launched an Inquiry into the high price of data . For three years our community has fought for justice in many ways. Today, let’s once again come together to demand that the Competition Commission acts to ensure that network providers don’t profiteer on the backs of those who can only afford the smallest data bundles.
It costs companies the same amount to 'make' data, so why are they charging those with the least money the highest prices? Vodacom and MTN are hoping we, the majority, will continue to subsidise the wealthy. But if enough of us demand action, we could convince the Competition Commission to act.
To the Competition Commission of South Africa
We demand that the price of data is reduced. Telecommunications companies are currently overcharging for data, which disproportionately affects low income earners. Despite not incurring extra costs to provide data out-of-bundle, network providers are charging those who use these and smaller bundles exorbitant rates. Vodacom currently charges R2 per megabyte for out-of-bundle data‚ while MTN charged 99 cents‚ Cell C R1.10 and Telkom 29 cents. Yet 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 bigger bundles lowers the cost even more drastically‚ reducing the cost to as little as five and six cents per megabyte. The market dominance of MTN and Vodacom has allowed them to keep the price of data high, while creating the illusion of competition through promotions that don't change the fact that they are making enormous profits. This not only distorts competition within the sector, but because the digital economy is the future, by charging the poorest people the most for data, while giving the rich the cheapest data prices, MTN and Vodacom actual distort competition within the very fabric of our society, and in doing so entrench gross inequality. We call on you to ensure networks notify pre-paid users when their bundles are about to run out, and to ensure consumers opt in to out-of-bundle rates which are exorbitant. We call on you to demand networks are transparent about their profits, and desegregate their profits from voice, SMS and data both in and out-of-bundle. We further call on you to ensure networks send notifications to consumers, no matter how small their bundles, to warn them when their bundle is about to run out and for a 50% cut in the cost of data for those who pay the most for data, the poor.