Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele says very soon South Africans will pay less for data and that changes may be implemented as early as August next year.
Reducing the cost of data and roaming charges has been under the spotlight over the past three days as Ministers of Communication and ICT from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) gathered in Durban to discuss ITC infrastructure development in the region.
In an interview with SAnews, Minister Cwele said his department has mandated the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) to conduct a thorough study on the cost of data in the country and make recommendations.
The majority of South Africans access the internet through their mobile phones and the high costs of data has been a contentious issue for many.
“ICASA is busy conducting this study and they have promised to prioritise it because the demand from our citizens is so high that we must do this. We have also spoken to the Minister of Economic Development as well as the Competition Commission regarding this inquiry into data costs and by August next year we will have reached a conclusion on the matter,” Minister Cwele said.
Ministers from 15 SADC member-states have been meeting in Durban since Monday to discuss strategies for communication systems that are accessible, cost effective and of high quality to ensure connectivity to the citizens of the region.
“There is massive change and a revolution that is unfolding in front of us. It is our responsibility to plan ahead. We must be able say, what we want this region to be in 10 years’ time? If it means changing the laws to meet our ICT goals, then we must do it,” Minister Cwele said.
Earlier this year, the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services was allocated a budget of R1.9 billion to invest in broadband internet infrastructure in public buildings and schools in eight pilot districts. This has enabled several public buildings to be Wi-fi hotspots.
Minister of Communications Ayanda Dlodlo said high telecommunications prices had a negative effect on economic activity within the SADC region.
She bemoaned the fact that only 16.3% percent of the 300 million SADC’s population is accessing the internet compared to a penetration of 47% globally.
“We live in a society where too many of our citizens are still denied access to information and benefits. Despite the good progress we have made as a region, there are still challenges in rural and township areas,” Minister Dlodlo said.
“An accessible, affordable and reliable telecommunications is essential for us to benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This will also assist in our endeavours of transforming the SADC region into an information and knowledge-based economy,” the Minister said.