EDITORIAL | Make data field more competitive

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The cost of data must fall and so it was heartening to see the South African Competition Commission send the country’s cellphone industry a strong message on inflated pricing.
Last week the commission accused the country’s two major cell phone firms, MTN and Vodacom, of hurting the consumer and the economy in a greedy scrabble to make profits. In its preliminary report last week it criticised data tariffs as too high compared to international benchmarks.
We join the commission in asking why we should pay up to six times more for data than citizens in other countries, including our SADC neighbours where Vodacom and MTN also operate?
This is particularly unfair when one looks at the high price of mobile pre-paid data, most commonly used by poorer communities who are not tied into contracts.
The consumer is embattled and fighting cost of living increases on many fronts (tomorrow, for example, there is another substantial increase in the price of fuel).
Our economy itself is at stake as affordable telecommunications services, including data, are key to running many businesses including SMMEs in particular.
Although the commission points its finger at MTN and Vodacom, government is not blameless and the report notes it could have stepped in to re-look at legislation.
One of the core issues is access to spectrum, which is in high demand, and opening up access to this will, to a certain extent of course, make the field more competitive.
Selling spectrum is seen as a chance for the National Treasury to raise cash but there have been years of delays. The commission noted extra spectrum must be allocated fairly but until now there has been a lack of clear policy from government on this issue.
Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams had promised a final policy directive on spectrum allocation by the end of today, and a clear statement from this office is long overdue.
Be that as it may, the time is now overripe for action and we urge Ndabeni-Abrahams and the relevant players in the industry to get a move on. Access to the internet has increasingly become at the centre of economic growth...

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