Competition Commission orders #datapricesmustfall
CONSUMER rights groups have welcomed as “long overdue” the Competition Commission’s Data Services Market Inquiry recommendations that Vodacom and MTN must reach an immediate agreement to slash mobile data prices or face prosecution.
However, mobile operators lashed back at the commission yesterday with Vodacom claiming Independent Communications Authority of SA research showed SA prices were not higher than comparable countries, and MTN saying it was “wrong” to blame networks for pricing levels. Telkom welcomed the findings, claiming that the market was a “duopoly”.
The report found that SA data prices were “anti-poor” and higher than in other parts of the world and that Vodacom and MTN’s data pricing was more expensive locally than in other markets where they operate. It highlighted the high cost of prepaid data used mainly by poor consumers who paid up to R150 a Gigabyte compared to contract data users who pay R10.
According to the recommendations MTN and Vodacom must within two months reach an agreement with the commission on price reductions for which there is scope for decreases of 30% to 50%.
SA National Consumer Union vice-chairperson Clif Johnston said the organisation welcomed the recommendations which were long overdue.
“Consumers are always complaining about the high cost of data. We’re very pleased with the findings and particularly with the fact it will be beneficial for poorer consumers,” Johnston said.
Independent consumer activist and former chairperson of the National Consumer Forum Thami Bolani said the recommendations were “very progressive” but it had taken the government far too long to intervene in the pricing of data and he doubted the battle was over.
“Data prices are very high, very uncompetitive and unfair to low and middle-income earners.
“High data prices make it difficult for people to access knowledge, information and entertainment, and it becomes something only certain sections of the population can access.
“This makes it difficult for people to improve the quality of their lives,”
He said it had taken the government a decade or more to address the issue of high data prices.
“One worries that it takes the government so long to address such basic things. We need the government – which wants to improve people’s lives – to act much faster. We can’t take 10 to 15 years to take action on such simple things,” he said.
Bolani said it remained to be seen whether data prices would, in fact, be slashed over the next two months as it was likely that mobile operators would put up a fight.
“This doesn’t really mean that in two months’ time data prices will drop by 50% to 30%. We don’t know what will happen next. Will they go to court to challenge it and will the government have the stomach to fight it? We have to wait and see. We don’t think the battle is over,” he said.
Bolani added that the issue of unused data being rolled over free at the end of the month still needed to be addressed as consumers continued to lose unused data.
THE Competition Commission’s Data Market Inquiry report released yesterday singled out Vodacom and MTN (see graphics) for the high price of their data services in South Africa when compared to other countries around Africa and the rest of the world.