There is no doubt that data prices must come down as it negatively impacts the poor
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa has questioned high data costs saying the prices were unjustifiable.
Icasa bosses told Parliament today the market inquiry into data costs would be able to help cut down the price.
The telecommunications regulator was backed by MPs who also said the high costs were unjustifiable and impacted negatively on the poor.
Icasa was in Parliament to brief the select committee on communications and public enterprises on data costs.
Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel has set up an inquiry by the Competition Commission to investigate high data costs.
The Ministers of Communications, Trade and Industry and Telecommunications and Postal Services had also expressed concern about high data costs.
They backed the inquiry by the competition authorities.
Icasa acting chairman Rubben Mohlaloga said there was no doubt that data prices must come down.
Mohlaloga said they supported consumers for calling for the reduction of data prices.
South Africa’s data costs were high compared to its neighbouring countries.
“If you look at the international benchmarks, domestically there is this colloquial that data must fall,” said Mohlaloga.
He said prices must come down significantly.
However, he warned that when prices are reduced the industry must be able to survive.
“It (data) must fall to the extent that the industry is sustainable. The cost must go down significantly,” he said.
Icasa acting CEO Willington Ngwepe said the Competition Commission was already investigating if there was collusion in the industry.
This followed a question from MPs if there was collusion by the cellphone companies in data prices.
Ngwepe said the investigation by the competition commission would be able to determine that.
He said this was stated by Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele during his budget speech this year.
Patel also emphasised this point in his own budget speech.
“Parallel to that there is a process by Icasa on the review of broadband,” said Ngwepe.
Chairperson of the select committee Ellen Prins said they want to bring in the mobile operators to answer on this charge.
She said this was a sensitive matter and they wanted to hear all the sides.
“I think there is a need for us to meet with the service providers to give their side of the story (and) why we need (them) to reduce the cost of data,” said Prins.
Jacques Julius of the DA said the cost of data in South Africa was high compared to other countries.
Olifile Sefako of the ANC also questioned high data costs saying the poor were the biggest losers.
He said the cost of data made it difficult for poor people to communicate.
He called on consumer activists to join the committee when they meet with the mobile operators.
The issue of high data costs was first raised last year and this led to the intervention of Parliament.
Ministers in the Cabinet also promised to act on the matter, which eventually led to the probe by the Competition Commission.
It is not clear how soon the commission will conclude its investigation.
But Parliament also said it wants to get to the bottom of the matter.
The committee said it would invite Cell C, Vodacom and MTN to answer on the charge of high data costs.