On Wednesday 21 September, the Right2Know Campaign will tell Parliament that the high cost of data and airtime is stifling South Africans’ freedom of expression and right to communicate. We will continue to demand affordable data and airtime and fast and reliable internet access for all South Africans.
In recent days South African social media users have rallied under the slogan #DataMustFall. R2K wholeheartedly supports this call, which is central to achieving freedom of expression and media freedom for millions of people in South Africa. Too many ordinary South Africans are deprived of their right to receive and impart information because of rip-off airtime and data costs in this country. It is human to communicate, and to be deprived of the means of doing so, to be excluded from the digital economy and online world, is an affront to one’s dignity.
The ruthless profiteering of the major telecoms companies, particularly MTN and Vodacom, has helped entrench inequality in one of the most unequal countries in the world. It has left us with a gaping digital divide, where wealthy South Africans in the leafy suburbs enjoy high-speed fibre connections and attractive post-paid mobile packages, while the poor and marginalised are forced to cut back on basic necessities for a few minutes or megabytes to communicate.
One study of poor rural South Africans found that they had to spend more than a fifth (22%) of their monthly income on communications. In relative terms South Africa has some of the highest data/airtime costs in the world. It is outrageous that in a country where so many struggle to put bread on the table, the telecoms companies are given free rein to rip us off.
By bringing down termination rates we’ve seen a slight improvement in prices, but it has only been a small step forward. To bring down the cost of airtime and data and make the right to communicate available to all:
- We need ICASA to be a regulator with teeth that is truly independent and able to rein in the big telecoms companies!
- We need available digital spectrum to be used for the public interest, including the delivery of free public wifi — it should not be auctioned off to the highest bidder!
- We need greater community participation in governance and management in telecoms infrastructure. There must be support for alternatives to privatised telecommunications that empower local communities, such as the Zenzeleni Networks Mankosi, a village co-operative that has built its own telecommunications network in the rural Eastern Cape.
- Most of all, we need ordinary South Africans to continue to rally and mobilise for their right to communicate!
The big telecoms companies have been given too much power to trample over the rights of consumers, avoid paying taxes, and make huge profits while claiming that the high costs of communications is justified in order to get a ‘return on investment’. We must refuse to accept a situation where communicating with friends, colleagues and loved ones, finding out what is happening in the world, and exercising the basic right to access and share information, is only for the rich.
Right2Know appears before the Parliamentary committee on telecommunications at 10.30am Wednesday 21 September.
Find R2K’s submission to Parliament on the Cost to Communicate here.
For more comment, please contact:
Busi Mtabane – 083 329 7844
Micah Reddy – 083 297 3444
Mhlobo Gunguluzi – 078 742 7719
Download our publications on the right to communicate