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#DataMustFall: ANC concerned about 'digital divide in SA', inquiry hears

Oct 19 2018 19:29
Canny Maphanga

The ANC is concerned about the digital divide in South Africa due to high data costs and has joined mobile data service providers in the call for “more spectrum”.

“The cost of data in South Africa is significantly higher than other African countries however the release of spectrum will lessen the network burden of operators,” ANC Communicator Phelisa Nkomo told the commission.

This submission was made on the third day of the Competition Commission’s Data Market Inquiry on Friday in Pretoria.

The Competition Commission’s role in this inquiry is to examine in summary what “factors or features of the market and value chain may cause or lead to high data prices and to make recommendations that would result in lower prices for data services”.

“More spectrum”

The key mobile service providers in South Africa: Telkom, Vodacom, MTN and Cell C all made oral submissions, saying that more spectrum, or radio frequencies, as well as the introduction of effective competition will assist in lowering the price of data services in a sector where there is simply “no capacity”.

The ANC is of the view that the high cost of data is infringing on the poor’s right to access to information.

“Information can be a divider between the rich and the poor, you are wealthier when you are informed,” ANC National Spokesperson Pule Mabe told the commission.

“The ANC continues to be concerned about the negative impact that the high cost of data has on ordinary South Africans, especially workers, youth, students and women,” Mabe added.

While service providers pride themselves on having close to 90% coverage in rural areas, the ANC submits that the infrastructure is not valuable if it is not accessible.

"There may be infrastructure in the rural communities but the value is minimal if the poor cannot even afford the cost of services," Nkomo said.

As a result, the organisation said it agreed with the various mobile service providers in terms of their submissions on Thursday that the release of spectrum will lower the cost of data services.

“The release of spectrum for us is a step in the right direction. It means that you lessen the capital cost for mobile operators and they do not have to transfer the costs to the consumer,” Nkomo told the commission.

MTN, which forms part of the “duopoly” in this sector, on Thursday appealed with the Commission to not “over regulate”.

“We believe regulation is necessary, but please don’t over regulate this industry, license 5G spectrum now - the world of technology will not wait for us,” Motsa said.

The Department of Telecommunications & Postal Services however submitted that the perception that spectrum is the solution is not entirely true.

“This is not the first time that we have released radio frequency spectrum and if you look in the past, that has not lowered the price. I think this must be further interrogated,” Director General Robert Nkuna told the commission

Icasa

The Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA), which is responsible for issuing licenses to industry players had the last word.

The regulatory body is of the view that the benchmarks show that outside of Vodacom and MTN, South African data prices are not the highest in SADC and BRICS countries

The high demand of spectrum has since been addressed by the Minister of telecommunications and postal services, Siyabonga Cwele who published a Draft Policy Direction on the licensing of unassigned high demand spectrum for public consumption.

Icasa explained that once consultation has taken place, licensing can proceed.

The commission will publish a report of following the inquiry which concluded on Friday.

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