Port Elizabeth – The Democratic Alliance launched its national Mobile Data For All campaign at the Nangoza Jebe Hall in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, on Monday.
Addressing a capacity crowd, DA Youth federal chairperson Yusuf Cassim said exorbitant mobile data prices were keeping millions of South Africans from accessing the internet.
“Amongst the multitude of challenges confronting our youth, the exclusion from information and communication power provided through the internet remains the largest obstacle to the freedom to progress as an individual.
“How can we call ourselves free when half of the South African population have no access to the internet,” he said.
Cassim said internet access was more fundamental than rights, adding that it was an “economic necessity”.
“People with no internet connection, by definition, have less economic power in the 21st century than other people.
“They have less access to training, no way to see over the horizon, their connections to the world are entirely local, except for those few people they maintain contact with by telephone,” he said.
Cassim said the Mobile Data For All campaign was an extension of an issue raised by the DA since 2013, when the DA’s communications spokesperson, Marian Shinn, questioned the secrecy of an audit into what mobile data spectrum was available and being used, and warned of the risk of South Africans paying too much for data as a resource that was not scarce at all.
‘At the mercy of mobile companies’
Cassim said they had tried to engage with government on numerous occasions, without success.
“No, thina, we know the ANC of today is too self-obsessed to care. Before Yunus Carrim was the communications minister for a year, it was Dina Pule from 2011, who was more interested in her paid-for romantic trips to Mexico and the US with her boyfriend, who also stole money from an MTN sponsorship deal.
“From 2014, it was minister Faith Muthambi… eish. If only she actually did her job, then our young people would be able to buy a gig of data for Ben 10 rand,” he said.
Cassim said little to no progress had been made, because in order to do so, it required releasing mobile spectrum in a manner that ensured competition would drive down costs. He added that additional capacity removed the artificially high costs being charged by service providers who have a monopoly on offering mobile data.
“This involves a digital migration, of which the Department of Communications missed its deadline of November 2011, and also missed the international deadline of June 2015,” he said.
“Today, poor young South African are still at the mercy of mobile companies, while these operators continue making soaring profits, becoming extremely rich from high data prices,” he said.
‘Allowance of 500MB a month’
Cassim said the DA was demanding that a mobile data allowance of 500MB free data be made available every month for:
- Poor and missing middle students;
- Matric learners registered at government schools; and
- Job seekers registered on the job seekers database.
“An allowance of 500MB a month will allow poor students, matrics and job seekers to access the internet for study purposes and to find work, and government must fund the costs of this allowance to enable poor young South Africans to take advantage of the benefits of the internet.
“As the DA Youth, we are launching a petition to make these demands to the ANC government and, ultimately, replace them with a government that will deliver in their place in 2019.”
Cassim said the funding of the allowance, as well as the lowering of data costs, would be achieved by
- An immediate release of the extra mobile data spectrum, which would bring the much needed competition to the market. This would naturally drive prices down;
- Funding the Free Mobile Data Allowance by deducting the total cost price from each mobile operator’s monthly tax bill. This would allow the government to pay for the mree Mobile data, without paying out a cent.
“We believe that this would be a much needed point of departure to enable our youth to exploit the opportunities technology offers to leap out of generations of oppression and disadvantage, and prosper,” he said.