Parliament may take #DataMustFall debate further

South African parliament. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
South African parliament. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town - Members of Parliament could take the debate on allegedly high South African mobile data prices one step further than just a portfolio committee hearing.

Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services conducted a two-day hearing this week on South Africa’s mobile data costs.

The hearing was sparked off by the #DataMustFall hashtag, which has gone viral on Twitter this month as social media users call for networks to slash local data prices.

Stakeholders ranging from government, mobile networks, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) and the public gave their input at the hearings.

And Parliament could take the matter further by launching a debate on the topic in the national assembly, according to the telecommunications and postal services chair.

“Engagements were fruitful. The committee will deliberate on the submissions made and draft a report, hoping that all parties will support it,” said committee chairperson Mmamoloko Kubayi in a statement on Thursday.

“The committee will further appeal to the whipery and the presiding officers to have this matter debated in the national assembly,” Kubayi added.

Evidence provided at the hearings further painted a picture of “South Africa as one of the few countries globally burdened with excessive costs to communicate”, said Kubayi’s statement.

“The information we gathered over the past two days will be captured in our report and will go a long way in capacitating all of us,” said Kubayi.

Network 'roasting'

The two-day hearing was marked by probing questions from politicians and rebuttals from mobile networks such as Vodacom and MTN.

On Wednesday, News24 reported that EFF MP Fana Mokoena accused Vodacom of using jargon to hide behind answering the question as to why data costs were so high.

“What is a fact here is that the tariffs are too expensive,” said Mokoena. “People are complaining, not just about tariffs, but they are being given data that gets finished quicker,” Mokoena added.

Vodacom’s head of regulatory affairs, Hennie Jacobs, said on Wednesday that the primary reason why data costs were so high was due to the so-called “spectrum crunch” in large, urban areas.

READ: EFF's Mokoena roasts Vodacom over data costs

And Vodacom’s executive head of innovation Jannie van Zyl on Wednesday dispelled the "myth" that people's data was depleting more rapidly.

Faster networks, better phones and consumers' own habits have all led to users' perceptions that their data is "disappearing”, said van Zyl.

“Data cannot disappear. It is consumed by your handset,” he told the committee.

“Sometimes you use your data; sometimes your handset uses it in the background that you don’t know about,” added van Zyl.

Meanwhile, MTN told Parliament that it has decreased voice and data tariffs by 58% and 73% respectively in the last five years, despite an increase in costs owing to a struggling economy.

READ: MTN: Our data costs have decreased 73% in 5 years

Read Fin24's top stories trending on Twitter:

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