Of the big six large African markets – Egypt, Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa – we are the most expensive when it comes to data.
The cheapest 1GB package belongs to Egypt, at around R15.55. In comparison, our cheapest comes from Telkom at R99 per GB.
The second most expensive? Kenya, at around R64 per GB.
Minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel, has said; “Big data, search engines, complex algorithms and social media are the modern utilities that play the role akin to what water and energy utilities did a century ago.”
So… Why is our data so expensive and where does it all go?
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has launched an official inquiry into the matter.
Their spokesperson, Paseka Maleka, has stated that among a number of causes for the high cost of data in South Africa, lack of competition and the spectrum debacle are of chief concern.
“If we can look into issues of allocating more spectrum and introducing more competition, of course then the costs may come down,” she says.
In the last couple of years, Icasa have managed to reduce the cost of phone calls down to less than 20 cents to interconnect a call.
Now, with the growing demand for internet, they’re looking into the data problem. Causes on the rise, such as Data Must Fall and the Social Media Blackout, are evidence of the public’s outrage. They signify just how important data has become, not just to people’s daily lives but also to our country’s future.
We need innovation to compete in any upcoming industrial revolutions, to participate in 21st century economics. A massive driving force behind that will be the availability and affordability of data.
Icasa and the National Consumer Commission are set to tackle issues including data expiry and out-of-bundle rates.
They’ve also stated, there is no justification for the operators to charge high out of bundle rates, as the operators incur the same costs in providing data, whether in or out-of-bundle.
They hope to have completed this huge inquiry by March 2018. This will include a market study, a discussion document, public hearings and a findings document. The next phase of the project is to have a series of market reviews.
Two weeks ago, Vodacom customers woke up to find that their airtime and data had mysteriously vanished. We’re not talking about the way it seems to mysteriously vanish after two minutes of YouTube. We mean entirely, and for no good reason.
Then Vodacom came out and admitted that a system glitch, caused by a configuration change, was the cause of the problem. It promised to reinstate all the missing data and airtime. In addition, by way of apology, they also offered all the affected customers a free 500MB bundle.
That’s nice of them, but what about all the people who have experienced these system glitches before? This isn’t the first time our data has pulled a Houdini on us.
Before, customers were told, if you have an issue, here’s a tissue.
On 21 June, the Social Media Blackout rolled out, which we followed live on Twitter <ahem> and soon after, Vodacom responded.
“We know you out here fam, and we are listening. #WatchThisSpace something BIG is coming.”
Apart from the fact that Vodacom now addresses the public in slang, they also claimed their news would change the game.
Since then, they’ve launched My Meg, which will be running until the end of September. With My Meg, Vodacom customers are given up to 1GB free data every day to use on certain apps. Monday is for Facebook, Tuesday for Takealot or Pinterest, Wednesday for Gaming, etc.
In the meanwhile, Cell C has also launched a number of competitive subscription packages to rival Telkom’s FreeMe bundles.
Is Change On The Way?
In August, Icasa published a notice stating its intention to amend the end-user and subscriber service charter regulations.
The amendments would see the following
- Smaller data bundles remaining valid for longer and large bundles remaining valid for longer still. End-users must also be provided with an option to roll over unused data before the expiry date. See the proposed expiry periods for data bundles in the table below;
- Operators must provide a way for end users to opt in and out of out-of-bundle charges when their data bundle is depleted, and not be defaulted automatically to out-of-bundle data charges;
- They must also ensure that end users are sent data depletion notifications at regular intervals – at 50%, 75%, 90% and 100% depletion.
|20GB and more||24 months|
If introduced, these regulations will certainly have an effect on the business models of our Big Four service providers.
Interested parties have until 19 September to comment on the proposed regulations.
For now, Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom have all gone on record to say they have received the draft regulations, are in the process of studying them and are committed to addressing the problems.
Vodacom and MTN have both stated that data doesn’t generally disappear.
Our new smartphones just use a lot more of it, and faster. High definition videos, automatic system updates and data traffic all contribute to this, without us knowing.
While not likely, it has also been suggested that some complainants may have been victim to their SIM card being hijacked.
They will submit their comments on the draft regulations, they say, before the deadline.