Show­down looms on high cost of data in SA


THE IN­DE­PEN­DENT Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Author­ity of SA (Icasa) has ques­tioned the high cost of data in South Africa, say­ing the prices were un­jus­ti­fi­able.

Icasa bosses told Par­lia­ment yes­ter­day the in­quiry into data costs would help re­duce the price.

The telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions reg­u­la­tor was backed by MPs, who also said the high costs were un­jus­ti­fi­able and im­pacted neg­a­tively on the poor.

Icasa was in Par­lia­ment to brief the select com­mit­tee on com­mu­ni­ca­tions and pub­lic en­ter­prises on the price of data.

Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Ebrahim Pa­tel has set up an in­quiry by the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion to probe the ex­or­bi­tant costs. The min­is­ters of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, trade and in­dus­try and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and postal ser­vices had also ex­pressed con­cern over the high cost of data.

They backed the in­quiry by the com­pe­ti­tion au­thor­i­ties.

Icasa act­ing chair­per­son Rubben Mohlaloga said data prices must come down.

Mohlaloga said they sup­ported con­sumers in call­ing for the re­duc­tion in the price.

South Africa’s data costs were high com­pared to its neigh­bour­ing coun­tries.

“If you look at the in­ter­na­tional bench­marks, do­mes­ti­cally there is this col­lo­quial that data must fall,” said Mohlaloga.

And he said the prices must come down sig­nif­i­cantly.

How­ever, he warned that when prices are re­duced, the in­dus­try must be able to sur­vive.

“It (data) must fall to the ex­tent that the in­dus­try is sus­tain­able. The cost must go down sig­nif­i­cantly,” he added.

Icasa act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive Willing­ton Ng­wepe said the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion was al­ready in­ves­ti­gat­ing if there was price col­lu­sion in the in­dus­try.

This fol­lowed a ques­tion by MPs whether there was col­lu­sion by the cell­phone com­pa­nies on the price of data.

Ng­wepe said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion would be able to de­ter­mine that.

He said this was stated by Min­is­ter of Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and Postal Ser­vices Siyabonga Cwele dur­ing his bud­get speech this year.

Pa­tel also em­pha­sised this point in his own bud­get speech.

“Par­al­lel to that there is a process by Icasa on the re­view of broad­band,” said Ng­wepe.

Chair­per­son of the select com­mit­tee Ellen Prins said they want to bring in the mo­bile op­er­a­tors to an­swer to this.

She said it was a sen­si­tive mat­ter and they wanted to hear all sides to the story.

“I think there is a need for us to meet with the ser­vice providers to give their side of the story (and) why we need (them) to re­duce the cost of data,” said Prins.

Jac­ques Julius of the DA said the cost of data in South Africa was high com­pared to other coun­tries.

Oli­file Se­fako of the ANC also ques­tioned the high data costs, say­ing the poor were the big­gest losers be­cause of the cost.

He said the cost of data made it dif­fi­cult for poor peo­ple to be ac­tive in the econ­omy.

He called on con­sumer ac­tivists to join the com­mit­tee when they meet with the mo­bile op­er­a­tors.

The issue of high data costs was first raised last year, which led to Par­lia­ment’s in­ter­ven­tion.

Cab­i­net min­is­ters also promised to act on the mat­ter, which even­tu­ally led to the probe by the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion.

It is not clear how soon the com­mis­sion will con­clude its in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but Par­lia­ment said it wants to get to the bot­tom of the mat­ter as a mat­ter of ur­gency.

The com­mit­tee said it would in­vite Cell C, Vo­da­com and MTN to come and ex­plain them­selves to MPs.

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