The Right 2 Know campaign are claiming that cellphone companies are making staggering profits on SMS’s and that South Africa “has the sixth highest mobile phone charges in the world”.
Vodacom’s Richard Boorman says the claims “hold no water” as they do not factor in “network and infrastructure” costs, which include a “myriad of other costs”.
“I don’t think any company would want to discuss their costs,” Boorman said.
MTN spokesperson Robert Madzonga said in a statement: “(MTN) operates in a regulated market and has always fully complied with the regulations issued by ICASA. As an organisation, MTN adheres to the highest ethical standards and governance necessary to maintain business continuity and sustainability.”
The Right2Know campaign, dubbed ‘Vula ma Connexion’, claims there is no transparency in the cost of communication and demands ICASA, which it claims is “weak and underfunded”, should regulate the cost of airtime and data to stop profiteering.
Asked for comment ICASA directed eNCA.com to a recent statement, saying that “despite (a 2010) regulatory intervention, the costs of communication in South Africa are still comparatively high in relation to its Southern African and continental peers.”
Earlier this month ICASA launched the “Cost to Communicate Programme”, through which it aims to address the “call to reduce communication costs (that) is echoed in various platforms”. The outcomes of the programme, which promises an extensive review of the South African telecommunications sector, are due in October this year.
Boorman said, Vodacom “don’t yet know the details on the ICASA programme and are looking forward to getting that.”
Right2Know national coordinator Mark Weinberg claims cellphone giants Vodacom and MTN, are profiteering off the poor and offering sub-standard services.
In a 2011 report by the International Telecommunications Union South Africa ranked 16th, just below Mexico and India, on the largest telecommunications in terms of revenue telecommunications, based on the approximately R169-billion (US$16.9-billion) revenue generated by Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom in 2010. This places South Africa seventh on the top 15 countries with highest ratio of telecommunication revenues to GDP for 2010.
“Smartphone users have evolved beyond SMS’s with Facebook, BBM and Whatsapp, so SMS’s have essentially become the technology of the poor. At the rates they’re charging it has become a tax primary on poor people, so we think it would be a good first gesture to make an SMS cost the same as a Mixit or Facebook message,” Weinberg said.
“In essence it means the cellphone companies are redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich – poor people are cross subsidising the communication of the rich – and the campaign thinks this is unjust,” says Weinberg.
“Like we have the right to energy and to clean water, and laws get passed that even those without any money have free access to basic water and energy so we believe you should have access to free basic telecommunications it’s essential to living in the modern world, it’s essential to participating in the economy and a functioning democracy.”
The activist group marched to offices of Vodacom and MTN in Cape Town to hand over a memorandum outlining their demands on Wednesday.
Some of their demands included that all SMS’s should be free, cellphone companies should improve the quality of their service and the range of free-to-call numbers should be increased to include children’s schools and hospitals.
The memorandum was also handed to ICASA and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communication.
This article was a report by eNCA and it was published online on 12 June 2013.