Picture: 123RF/MATTHIAS ZIEGLER
Picture: 123RF/MATTHIAS ZIEGLER

This past week was a major victory for the #DataMustFall movement. The Competition Commission’s data service market inquiry found that prices for data in SA are among the highest in the world and has ruled for the prices to be reduced by 30%-40%.

What makes this victory even sweeter for the movement is that the conversation was not started on the streets but online, the very place many of the youth are fighting for access to.

Over the past few years we have seen SA gain an ever-growing voice on social media platforms such as Twitter and WhatsApp. Time and again we have seen how our youth have banded together to use these essential tools to be heard, make change and protest against injustice. 

The economy of today is a digital one and every South African has a right of access, especially our youth, the informal business sector that contributes towards more than 7% of SA’s GDP, and the economically vulnerable. High data prices infringe on the rights of every South African.

More than half of SA is connected to the internet (54%), that’s more than 31-million people who spend, on average, more than eight hours a day on the internet — higher than the global average of six hours, according to theWe Are Social, Digital in 2019” report.

This is in large part due to the increase in smartphone sales in SA, which saw a total of 13.5-million units sold in 2018, with two thirds of those being mobile phones less than the R1,500 price range.

Data that never expires

Other statistics show that 84% of mobile connections in SA are pre-paid, showing that by driving mobile internet connectivity and reduced data prices we can increase access to educational resources and connect more people across distances — enhancing social well-being, empowering women and closing the digital gender gap.

If South Africans are to compete and have access to the digital economy, lowering data costs is just the first step. The road towards free and/or unlimited data is still a long way off, but the next best thing is the protection of the data we purchase. It’s the access to data that never expires.

As more day-to-day services switch to mobile, such as banking, licence renewals and shopping, along with entertainment, we risk leaving behind many South Africans to fend for themselves against increased transportation, food and service costs as a result of petrol price increases. The little data that economically vulnerable South Africans do have needs to stay with them.

Unemployment among those 15–24 years old sits at 55.2%, with a further 31% of this group being unemployed graduates, an increase of 11.4% from 2018. Such high numbers have seen mobile operators are related companies re-imagine not just the way in which they engage with their audience but also adapt product and service offerings to their needs and their immediate realities.

The important thing is listening to and helping solve the needs of customers. The win of the #DataMustFall movement is one that all South Africans should be celebrating, but also one that we should look to improve.

• Avenel-Delpha is vice-president for mobile at Trace Southern Africa.