By Staff Writer
Urgent intervention to bring down the price of mobile data is an obvious priority for South African consumers and the country’s Minister of Telecommunications & Postal Services, but not equally so for the country’s telecommunications regulator.
While 87% of South African households use mobile exclusively to communicate, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) has placed intervention in one of the world’s least competitive mobile data spaces on the back burner while it sets out to determine what its priorities should be.
According to the latest StatsSA General Household Survey, the exclusive use of cellphones was most common in the most economically marginalised provinces of Mpumalanga (95%), Limpopo (94,4%), North West (90,5%) and Free State (90,2%).
But instead of getting on with the job of providing financial relief to debt-stressed consumers in a recession, ICASA is dithering by announcing recently that it is embarking on a process to determine which areas to focus on when exercising its powers.
ICASA says it intends to complete this process by April 2018 and will only look at intervention in specific markets afterwards.
“The priority market for intervention is obvious and there is no need to waste more time,” says Dominic Cull, ISPA regulatory advisor.
“We have been talking about mobile data affordability for a long time, and what ICASA is proposing means that concrete steps are unlikely to materialise before 2019/2020.”
The Minister of Telecommunications & Postal Services has already made government’s position clear. In March 2016 he directed ICASA to “prioritize the commencement and conclusion of an inquiry and the prescription of regulations to ensure effective competition in broadband markets.”
Some 16 months later, little has been done. Yet, it is clear from the #datamustfall campaign, as well as recent news reports and the constant clamour on social media, that South Africans are deeply concerned about how much they spend on mobile data.
While this concern will deepen as we consume more data as part of our everyday working and social lives, there is an unfortunate lack of urgency on the part of the communications regulator to confront the mobile network operators on this issue.
“ISPA believes that there is a huge pent-up demand for mobile data, which is being held back by the current pricing levels. Consumers are having to balance their growing need for megs and gigs with their very limited Rands and cents: ICASA needs to address this with the urgency it deserves,” said Cull.