Internet access has become a human right, data inquiry hears

The need to communicate and access the internet has become a human right in South Africa and should be treated as such, Media Monitoring Africa has said during an inquiry into data services.

Testifying before the Competition Commission's Data Services Market Inquiry on Wednesday, Media Monitoring Africa's executive director, William Bird, said that access to the internet should be considered a basic human right. Failure to do so would effectively take the country back to apartheid, he said.

Bird said that while the wealthy can control their access to the internet, which is easily available to them, the poor, which make up the majority of the population have to resort to disproportionately high rates for data to access the internet.

He explained that the poor paid higher costs because they cannot afford to pay for data in bulk whereas those who were better off could do so in terms of data contracts or fixed ADSL and Fibre lines.

"They are operating on classic capitalist knowledge if you pay more you get it cheaper, but that logic is perverse," Bird said.

Equal access to data

Bird said that if the country was serious about driving equality, all people would need equal access to data in order to access the internet or communicate.

He said with the world increasingly moving into a digital space, the marginalised will be further left behind if they are unable to afford access to the internet.

He described access to the internet as a basic human right like water or shelter, which is enshrined in the Constitution.

"You shouldn't have to worry about data," he said.

Bird raised questions around the fact that people were being left behind in the digital age due to their income.

Media Monitoring Africa suggested several solutions including free access to the internet at all government sites such as schools and libraries, free Wi-Fi access should be regarded as a municipal service and that every citizen should be entitled to a daily amount of free internet access.

Bird called this concept "my internet rights".

SA data among the most expensive

Earlier on Wednesday, Right to Know, which also made a submission, said data in South Africa is among the most expensive in the world.

In their presentation they showed that India pays only R11 for one gig of data, Russia charges R24, while in South Africa it costs as much as R149.

In 2017, Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel tasked the commission with finding out the causes for the high cost of data in South Africa.

The hearings continue on Thursday, with cellphone companies expected to share their views.

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