SA has a 'right' to cheap data

2014-03-20 12:00
Lower data cost should be a priority in SA so that more people have access to the internet. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Lower data cost should be a priority in SA so that more people have access to the internet. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Data cost remains a barrier to many South Africans accessing the internet and reducing that cost should be the priority, an industry insider insists.

"Access to cost-effective data should be a basic right to consumers, not a luxury," said Kevin Hurwitz, CEO of South Africa.

Despite SA having the potential of six million cable broadband connections, there are only around 800 000 ADSL subscribers. Most South Africans who access the internet, do so on mobile phones.

World Wide Worx revealed that 90% of the 6.4 million South Africans who access the internet in SA rely solely on an internet connection on their mobile phones.

According to the Mobility 2014 research study, also conducted by World Wide Worx with the backing of First National Bank, people in the 19 - 24 age group are abandoning spending on voice calls in favour of data.

3G coverage

Vodacom results show that voice declined to 56% of the group's cellphone expense, down around 10% from 2012, while spending on data increased from 17% to 24%.

Data spend, on the other hand increased from 12% to 16%.

"Group data revenue increased 29%, even as we actively reduced data prices. In South Africa as an example, the average price per megabyte came down 16%," Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub told News24.

The government has indicated that the country intended to accelerate mobile broadband delivery in keeping with the National Development Plan to drive 100% broadband in SA by 2020.

"Obviously, we have to move with speed too on spectrum policy. We aim to finalise the Spectrum Policy by March 2014. This includes the issue of high-demand spectrum for broadband, which is linked to digital migration," said Minister of Communications Yunus Carrim at the Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference.

As the self-imposed deadline looms, Wonga called on political leadership to actively work to reduce the cost of data to consumers.

"We urge regulators, industry bodies and telecommunications service providers to work together to make data more affordable to serve the rights of South African consumers," said Hurwitz.

Part of the delay in allocating spectrum has been linked to the reticence of the public broadcaster to move toward digital terrestrial television. The ideal frequency band for high speed data is currently occupied by analogue TV broadcasts.

The GSMA Sub-Saharan Africa Mobile Economy 2013 report found that 39.3% of South Africans are covered by 3G services, higher than the regional average of 7.6%.

Data access

The GSMA also found that SIM penetration was over 100%, but that the numbers were indicative of a complex mobile ecosystem in the country.

"We've gone behind the headline SIM penetration and looked at unique subscriber penetration. And we found that while SIM penetration on average across Sub-Saharan Africa is about 61%, people have multiple SIM cards - it's 31% on a unique subscriber basis," said Peter Lyons, director of Public Policy Africa Middle East at the GSMA.

Hurwitz said that cellphones have become critical to the development of the country, and it implied that direct action should be taken to facilitate data access.

"The predominant use of mobile phones as a means to access the internet in South Africa points to the simple fact that mobile access to services is the future in the country."

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