Regulators should cap the amount of money network providers charge for data, possibly halving the amount of money South Africans pay to access the internet, a well-known radio personality and the man at the forefront of the #DataMustFall campaign told MPs on Tuesday.
“At some point in time we need to have a capped ceiling of how much a gig [gigabyte of data] will cost…,” Thabo Molefe, better known by his DJ name Tbo Touch, said while briefing Parliament’s portfolio committee on telecommunications and postal services on day one of public hearings on the cost to communicate.
Molefe said while the #DataMustFall campaign continues to gain traction, drawing support from all major political parties, including the African National Congress, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters, mobile operators have yet to respond.
“We urge the House to request networks to have an open conversation about their pricing strategy on data,” he said.
Molefe told MPs there were many countries across Africa where people pay significantly less to access the internet.
“Ghana has half the population [of South Africa] but more networks, but simply because the spectrum was opened…,”he said.
“Our proposal is simple. We never said data must be free. Currently networks are giving away free WhatsApp. If that’s possible they can cut the price in half.”
Molefe started his campaign last week by giving cellphone networks a 30-day ultimatum to make a change, or else subscribers would migrate to a cheaper service provider. Tuesday marked five days since the ultimatum was issued.
The #DataMustFall campaign was currently enjoying massive popularity on social media, trending on Twitter, with many people endorsing and supporting it, including politicians and celebrities.
Earlier during the hearings, MPs heard from the department of telecommunications and postal services who argued that effective regulation was needed to address high call and data costs in South Africa.
Acting department Director General Joe Mjwara said mobile operators were abusing their market dominance by charging consumers high prices for calls and data.
“It is in the nature of a human being, if they are given unfettered powers they will abuse that power…in their selfish interest,” Mjwara said.
He said the market was characterised by ineffective competition and scarce resources, including spectrum.
Mjwara said while call costs have been reduced through regulation, consumers still cough up too much money for data, adding that operators were making up the shortfall resulting from the voice call reduction costs by charging more for data.
“The fact that this hearing has been convened again… bears testimony that high prices that dominated voice calls…have now been shifted to data services.”
Mobile operators are expected to brief MPs on Wednesday.