The 2019 accessibility report released by the Alliance for Accessible Internet shows that little competition is mostly responsible for lack of access to affordable data.
The report found that some countries are not diversifying and their broadband markets are becoming more consolidated. People living in countries with consolidated markets were found to pay $3,42 more per GB of mobile data than those in similar countries with competitive markets.
This report looks at 61 countries and analyses them according to their communications infrastructure and access to the internet. South Africa ranked 23rd with a score of 59.72 out of 100. The country has a relatively high internet penetration with over 80% of it’s citizens owning a smartphone, according to ITWeb. This should mean it ranks higher but data is extremely expensive and accounts for a significant chunk of a persons income, therefore making access difficult for poorer people.
The issue of data has been repeatedly discussed in South Africa, even resulting in the #datamustfall movement which led to an an inquiry into the price of mobile data in 2018.
Although the country doesn’t fall under the alliances concern of only having one service provider, it faces this same issue of high data prices because of market monopolies by the major service providers.
The Competition Commission found that despite some smaller service providers, the dominance of Vodacom and MTN means that they dictate data prices without having to be concerned that a competitor might undercut them. This has left South Africans with little choice but to pay up for expensive data. The Commission even explicitly said that the data pricing structure was “anti-poor.”
“An assessment of headline retail prices of all mobile operators demonstrates that consumers of small data bundles, generally being poorer customers, pay inexplicably more on a per MB/GB basis,” the commission said.
The purpose of the Accessibility report is to highlight the internet situation around the world and advocate for better access, especially among groups largely priced out of decent access.
“Women, people on low-incomes, and those living in remote and rural areas are disproportionately unable to access the internet — a digital divide that threatens to mirror existing inequalities and further exclude these communities,” said the report.
The report recommends steps to lower the cost of data. These include governments supporting affordable access to wholesale internet data for would-be competitors, invest in public internet access including free public wifi and adopt policy and regulations to support a competitive market.
“Competitive broadband markets provide the foundation needed to make universal access a reality. Yet, governments must also play their role by pursuing public access policy and investments that build healthy, competitive markets that drive down the cost to connect,” said Sonia Jorge, Executive Director at Alliance for Affordable Internet in a statement.