Cell C. Picture: Alaister Russell
Cell C. Picture: Alaister Russell

SA's third largest mobile operator, Cell C, said on Wednesday it has voluntarily offered to contribute to the Competition Commission's calls for more affordable internet connectivity in the country.

Cell C's offer will be focused on lifeline data products, increased transparency and notifications, together with zero-rated services to public benefit organisations (PBOs). 

For transparency Cell C will implement effective rate notifications that will allow customers to check usage per megabyte (MB) price. This system will be implemented in the next 6-9 months.

Customers will also have zero-rated access to websites of designated PBOs, including national and local government content focused on education, health and electricity, among others.

In a statement, Cell C CEO Douglas Craigie Stevenso said: “The commission’s recommendations on data price cuts have resulted in industry prices now falling to levels that Cell C has been offering since 2018 and the company is happy to have concluded an agreement in these circumstances.”

The agreement comes after a two-year investigation by the Competition Commission, which found that the cost of mobile data was too high for SA consumers and called on MTN and Vodacom cut their data prices 30%-50%, or face prosecution.

In March, Vodacom said it would cut prices on its data bundles by up to 40% from the start of April, with MTN saying a week later it would cut its prices by up to 50% as from mid-April.

Last week, fixed-line operator Telkom launched new products that will reduce wholesale prices to internet service providers (ISPs), as part of its agreement with the competition watchdog, after the inquiry had also found that its subsidiary, Openserve, was overcharging ISPs for moving data from a local area to one of the major data centres in the country.

Cell C's chief legal officer, Zahir Williams, clarified that the context of their agreement was based on Cell C’s social responsibility to ensure that lower-income consumers had access to essential communication services through the provision of free, daily lifeline data and the zero-rating of essential government and educational services.

“It is important to keep in mind that the inquiry did not find any evidence that Cell C had contravened the Competition Act, rather that certain industry-wide measures would improve access by lower income consumers,” Williams said.

Earlier this week, Cell C doubled the data offered on its All-In-One bundles to help customers stay connected with work and loved ones from March 31 to April 17, while the country continues its Covid-19 lockdown.

gavazam@businesslive.co.za