#DataMustFall campaigners are guilty of cherry-picking to make a point that is set to undermine one of post-apartheid’s few success stories. (Worldwide data prices have fallen considerably and look set to continue doing so. It is a fantastic good news story – especially for the poor!)
Yes, in India, a small regional provider, for a limited period of time, offered a loss-leader special deal at R11 per gig. Comparing this isolated cheapest option to South Africa’s most expensive mainstream gig is disingenuous at best. The cheapest recent South African price was R8 per gig.
There are too many variables to compare prices across countries accurately or honestly. Prices vary depending on whether providers are regional or national, whether packages are once-off or contract, whether data is in or out of bundle.
But that’s not all. Prices are influenced by country size, population density, coverage, technology, speed, geography, regulations, subsidies, licensing fees, spectrum availability, quality and level of development. In South Africa, loadshedding and crime add to the prices charged consumers, as does restrictive spectrum allocation. In addition, the government requires mobile network operators to provide free or heavily-discounted data to schools, hospitals, clinics, universities and FETs. There is no such thing as a free lunch – someone has to pay for “free” data. That someone is you, the paying consumer.
Be warned: Calls for “free” data will raise your data prices. Are you ready to pretend data is a human right? What’s next? Something you supply?
Questions the media might ask at the ANC policy conference
- Did government investigate whether it is really true that South Africa’s data prices are substantially higher than in India and Nigeria?
- Taking into account South Africa’s sparse population distribution, is it fair to compare South African data prices to densely populated India and Nigeria where towers cover many more people?
- Does the response to DataMustFall not amount to a kneejerk reaction leading to premature populist conclusions?
- Aren’t data prices in South Africa forced up by policy uncertainty, inefficient spectrum allocation and overregulation?
- Industry experts have said that a pure comparison between South African data prices and those of other countries is dishonest, as various factors like the rand/dollar exchange rate, telecoms equipment, regulatory environment, population density, coverage and the distance between South Africa and the Northern Hemisphere, where most of the internet is located, need to be taken into account. What is your response to this?
- The socio-economic impact assessment released by the department included mostly praise and good reactions from the regulators and the industry, but omitted the serious concerns the industry had about the WOAN, spectrum allocation policy, and cost-based pricing. What is your response to this?
- South Africa’s constitution does not include a right to internet access, and lawyers have explained that our right to information does not mean anyone must be provided with a free or low-cost service. Is government willing to accept that it has no constitutional mandate to expand access to data?