Parly committee describes cost of communication in SA as brutal and abusive

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Parliament’s Select Committee on Public Enterprises and Communication has described the cost of communication in the country as brutal and abusive toward South Africans.

The committee has instructed the Independent Communications Authority to deal with network companies that it says are getting away with murder, with the high data and airtime costs.

Icasa briefed the committee on the availability of the spectrum and how it can reduce the cost of communication.

Spectrum is the term used to describe broadcast frequencies and signals used by TV, Radio and telecommunications for communication. This spectrum is a vastly contested space, which service providers vie for. Last year, Icasa auctioned off the spectrum to the tune of more than R14 billion. Vodacom and MTN, South Africa’s biggest network companies, bought the lion’s share of that space. The committee is, however, concerned with how service providers are managing this space and the cost at which it comes for consumers.

“It has reached a level of not abuse, I would say but a brutal exploitation of the poorest of the poor. Our country is one of the few that charges exorbitant pricing when it comes to data and the brutality of it is that you know, we are a country with a high level of unemployment and people who seek employment will have to communicate through these services and they require data that is reasonable in terms of price.”

Deputy Minister of Communication, Philly Mapulane, says the Department is concerned.

“The issue of cost of data is one we face a potential revolution in the country. Data has become a serious commodity which we must make sure is accessible.”

Poor network and connectivity, especially in rural areas, is another concern.

“If we can have a rapid assurance that there is signal, network and people have access to it, not in a manner that is substandard,  its speed is good, so that’s what we require here.”

Chairperson of the Select Committee on Public Enterprise and Communications Zolani Mkiva, called on Icasa to put pressure on the companies it gave licences to.

Icasa’s Peter Zimri says operators will be given targets, with timelines set, to ensure better services are covered and costs are reduced.

“Access to additional spectrum enables network operators to optimize their network deployments, improve coverage, increase capacity and enhance the quality of service. These benefits can lead to cost savings in the long run and a more efficient use of resources. Access to additional spectrum can have a positive impact on the cost of data.”

The committee says it’s aware Icasa has a mammoth task ahead. It says investment in infrastructure dealing with coverage should be forced and has called on the entity to put its foot down, to make sure service providers are meeting their obligations to consumers.