#DataMustFall: R2K picketers call for cellphone companies to ring in the changes

Johannesburg – Right2Know has led pickets outside the four major telecommunications companies in Gauteng on Tuesday, demanding affordable voice and data costs for South Africans.

Tariffic, a research company, found that South Africa has the second highest data contract prices among seven countries, including Brazil, Russia, India, China, Kenya and Australia, as Fin24 previously reported.

Picketing took place outside Cell C's head office in Sandton, MTN's head office in Randburg, Vodacom in Midrand and Telkom in Centurion.

Among some of the demands read out by the organisation's provincial organiser in Gauteng, Ntombi Tshabalala, was that data bundles should never expire, free SMSes for all users, that communication regulatory board Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) regulate the cost of airtime, and a free basic amount of airtime to all citizens. 

In August, Icasa published draft regulations stating new time bars on data expiration. Interested parties have been given until September 19 to comment. 

Tshabalala also complained about contract customers paying less for data than those on prepaid accounts. She said they were also demanding better quality of service in terms of drop call rates and networks.

"It's challenging for citizens, because we prefer buying data or airtime, for that matter, instead of buying bread," she said, adding that communication should be cheaper, as the poor were most affected, and that telecommunications companies were making large profits.

"It is outrageous that, in a country where so many struggle to put bread on the table, the telecoms companies are given free rein to rip us off," said Right2Know in a statement.

Price transformation strategy

Speaking on behalf of Vodacom outside its head office in Midrand, Managing Executive of Public Policy, Themba Kinana told a handful of picketers that they were co-operating with Icasa, and were continuing to put measures in place to reduce the cost of data.

Voice and data costs had been reduced by 42% and 44% respectively, he said. Vodacom had the lowest drop call rates and the widest coverage range in South Africa, Kinana said, in response to Tshabalala’s demands.

Kinana said that the fight against data costs had gained momentum, and that more needed to be done. Vodacom had embarked on a price transformation strategy, he said.

"Over the past few years, Vodacom has invested R26bn in the infrastructure and new technologies. We do this so our customers enjoy the widest range in terms of 2, 3 and 4g coverage and vastly increased data speed," said Kinana.

The picket took place because the R2K said that their demands had not been met since 2013, when they initially made the demands to network providers.

Picketers blocked the entrance to the office, singing struggle songs and brandishing placards.

For more tweets follow News24 journalist Nation Nyoka on Twitter.

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