Mobile networks – MTN and Vodacom in particular – have come in for a severe tongue-lashing from the Right2Know Campaign.

“The ruthless profiteering [from the costs of data and airtime] of the major telecoms companies, particularly MTN and Vodacom, has helped entrench inequality in one of the most unequal countries in the world,” R2K has said.

The social justice movement said this in a statement released yesterday, prior to the presentation it is making today in parliament before the Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services during day two of its Cost to Communicate public hearings.

“Too many ordinary South Africans are deprived of their right to receive and impart information because of rip-off airtime and data costs in this country. It is human to communicate, and to be deprived of the means of doing so, to be excluded from the digital economy and online world, is an affront to one’s dignity,” R2K said.

Yesterday, radio personality, Tbo Touch, along with fellow radio presenter and co-owner of online radio Station, TouchCentral FM, Gareth Cliff, presented their #DataMustFall argument on why the high costs of data in the country should be brought down.

R2K said it is wholeheartedly rallying behind #DataMustFall, as it is central to achieving freedom of expression and media freedom for millions of people in South Africa.

The movement further added that the cost to communicate in the country has left a “gaping digital divide, where wealthy South Africans in the leafy suburbs enjoy high-speed fibre connections and attractive post-paid mobile packages, while the poor and marginalised are forced to cut back on basic necessities for a few minutes or megabytes to communicate”.

“The big telecoms companies have been given too much power to trample over the rights of consumers,avoid paying taxes, and make huge profits while claiming that the high costs of communications is justified in order to get a ‘return on investment’. We must refuse to accept a situation where communicating with friends, colleagues and loved ones, finding out what is happening in the world, and exercising the basic right to access and share information, is only for the rich,” R2K added.

Read more of R2K’s argument in the extract below:

One study of poor rural South Africans found that they had to spend more than a fifth (22%) of their monthly income on communications. In relative terms South Africa has some of the highest data/airtime costs in the world. It is outrageous that in a country where so many struggle to put bread on the table, the telecoms companies are given free rein to rip us off.

By bringing down termination rates we’ve seen a slight improvement in prices, but it has only been a small step forward. To bring down the cost of airtime and data and make the right to communicate available to all:

  • We need ICASA to be a regulator with teeth that is truly independent and able to rein in the big telecoms companies!

  • We need available digital spectrum to be used for the public interest, including the delivery of free public wifi — it should not be auctioned off to the highest bidder!

  • We need greater community participation in governance and management in telecoms infrastructure. There must be support for alternatives to privatised telecommunications that empower local communities, such as the Zenzeleni Networks Mankosi, a village co-operative that has built its own telecommunications network in the rural Eastern Cape.

  • Most of all, we need ordinary South Africans to continue to rally and mobilise for their right to communicate!

[Source – R2K,  Image – CC Warren Rohner]