Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion or­ders #dat­aprices­must­fall

The Mercury - - FRONT PAGE - LYSE COMINS For the full report on the in­quiry’s find­ings see BR: Page 13

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,”

Bolani said.

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.

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