Effective competition in the mobile data services used by consumers is the key to making broadband more affordable for all South Africans. There is, however, an unfortunate lack of urgency on the part of the communications regulator to confront the mobile network operators on this issue.
This is despite the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services issuing an urgent policy directive to ICASA on 3 March 2016 requiring it to prioritise an inquiry that would finalise regulations to ensure effective competition in South Africa’s broadband market. A full year later, little appears to have been done.
It is clear from the #datamustfall campaign, as well as recent news reports, that South Africans are deeply concerned about how much they spend on mobile data. This is a concern that will deepen as we consume more data as part of our everyday working and social lives.
Despite the trend towards increasing data usage and decreasing use of voice services, ICASA has announced that it will continue to focus on the cost of voice calls. Previous use by ICASA of Chapter 10 of the Electronic Communications Act to bring down voice costs was very successful and has made a real difference to the cost to communicate for South Africans over the last six years.
However, a declining share of the consumer’s monthly mobile spend goes to voice calls. At current growth rates, mobile data revenue will soon surpass voice revenue. What is urgently needed – and what consumers are clamouring for – is cheaper mobile data. There is very little progress on this front.
While ICASA has appointed a service provider to undertake a study of broadband markets, nothing has been communicated to industry or the public more than a year after the Minister’s directive.
By focusing on voice call termination rates, ICASA is taking the easy option of doing what it has done before, while avoiding the far more relevant and pressing issue of the cost of the mobile data used by tens of millions of South Africans.
Published: Friday, April 14th, 2017
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