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    September 16, 2016

    The EFF becomes the first political party to pledge support for #DataMustFall

    The EFF pledges support for #DataMustFall

    The EFF have become the first political party to pledge support for the #DataMustFall campaign, aimed at reducing high broadband prices.

    Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has become the first South African political party to pledge support for #DataMustFall – a new campaign which aims to force telecoms companies to reduce high broadband and mobile data prices.

    Threatening to ‘reign in delinquent operators’, the party has stated that cited that South African cellular companies had ‘infiltrated the (broader) African market’ and that other African nations would not allow networks to “œabuse their people like they do to South Africans“. 

    In a statement, the EFF outlined that “œMTN is a South African company which does business in Nigeria and Kenya. Their tariffs are cheaper in the two countries than they are in South Africa… Vodacom is a South African company with tentacles in Kenya but their tariffs are cheaper in Kenya than in South Africa… Pay-as-you-go data, which is largely used by the poorest of the poor, is more expensive than contract tariffs which are subscribed to by high-end customers.“

    The high cost of internet access

    The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has previously been raked over the coals by South African political parties – such as the ANC – for enabling the cost of communicating in the country to exceed that of other African states.  In 2013, South Africa was ranked 30th out of 46 places as “as having the most expensive pre-paid mobile tariffs among African countries”.

    That’s despite the fact that between 2010 and 2013 Vodacom showed a 28% price decrease and rival network MTN offered a 52% price decrease.

    The EFF pledges support for #DataMustFall

    South African Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Siyabonga Cwele

    Government’s vision

    Siyabonga Cwele, the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, has previously sought to reduce the cost of communication within South Africa through pricing and content reforms. In 2014, Cwele sought approval for a budget of R1.59 billion ZAR in a bid for government to “establish an environment in which the cost to communicate is affordable to all South Africans”.

    At the time, Cwele highlighted his department’s Cost to Communicate programme – a research and investigative portfolio which comprised five elements.

    The Broadband Market Value-Chain study was concluded in 2014 with the view of regulating broadband prices, while the National Roaming Study was undertaken to study the cost implications of mobile operators – with the view of studying discriminatory behaviour that blocked the entrance of smaller operators.

    The Pricing Transparency Regulations would supposedly “œto enable consumers to have a clear understanding of the true costs for the services they pay for“, while Premium Content Regulation was set to regulate how broadcasters access premium content services such as sport rights and films.

    The end result of the study was the intention to launch an Open Access Network by October of 2014. The concept would detail a scenario where South Africa would operate with a new open-access wholesale-only wireless network. This would allow a greater efficiency in terms of network capacity, and would serve as a platform for new mobile operators to enter the playing field without having to field the cost of setting up their own network infrastructure.

    The risks and benefits of an open network

    While it seems a rosy proposition, the risks would be evident; Martyn Roetter cites that a wholesale network would effectively be a monopoly that would be difficult to control, the plan could fail to attract enough traffic from existing operators and hence fail as a business, and the fact that all operators could feasibly access the same network would reduce the ability of new networks to offer differentiated and hence attractive products.

    South African government has eyed a self-imposed 2020 deadline at which point universal internet across South Africa would be offered. Cwele has previously indicated that Telkom would be ‘the most likely company to form part of the government’s strategy to roll out broadband’. Cwele cited that “In terms of the scale of technical capacity, I don’t think there’s any company that has that scale in terms of technical capacity like Telkom.”

    Boiling point

    Now, in 2016, it would seem the failure of those efforts to get off the ground timeously have reached a boiling point.

    The #DataMustFall campaign first garnered traction on Twitter, where it was spearheaded by Tbo Touch. South African citizens and celebrities alike quickly joined in to voice their frustration around the high prices of data in the country.

    The EFF has committed their support for the campaign, declaring that “œMobile operators themselves undertook resolutions they have not followed through, this because there is no government to hold them accountable. Instead, politicians are eyeing Vodacom shares rumoured to be on the market soon. We call on Icasa and the Department of Telecommunications to reign in these delinquent mobile operators to lower their tariffs with immediate effect.“

    Molefe has stated that service providers have “30 days to lower their pricing” or will face an exodus as subscribers flock to cheaper companies. However, the likelihood that South African consumers will abandon their mobile network of choice en masse is a doubtful proposition.

    With the EFF’s backing, the campaign might indeed develop more political impetus. Internet connectivity played a major role in the pre-municipal election promises of all three leading South African political parties.

    Read: ANC vs DA vs EFF: What do each promise for internet access in South Africa?

    The campaign aims to continue calling for accessible data fees – though whether those calls center around an open access network or even what an ‘accessible’ fee for internet connectivity might represent remains unclear.

    Some South African cities have made strides in offering free internet connectivity – the City of Tshwane offers a daily data allowance to all citizens in public spaces with Project Isizwe, while the City of Cape Town and the City of Johannesburg have begun introducing new free Wi-Fi zones.

    Have your say!

    What are your thoughts on the price of internet connectivity in South Africa? Is there a way to roll-out accessible, quality internet to South African citizens in a timeous manner? Is the EFF’s support of the #DataMustFall campaign valuable? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

    Follow Bryan Smith on Twitter: @bryansmithSA

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