#DataCostDebate gives lessons for operators

March 16th, 2018, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

The #DataCostDebate round table recently arranged by the Mail&Guardian and ICASA did little to develop a way forward to achieve data cost reduction. It was, however, an important lesson for mobile operators, who were accused of not communicating enough. It was said that when they do communicate, they create more confusion for customers who are trying to select the most suitable data package.

On the panel were: Willington Ngwepe, CEO of ICASA; Professor Babu Sena Paul, director of the Institute for Intelligent Systems at the University of Johannesburg; Loren Michelle Braithwaite-Kabosha, SA Communication Forum; Koketso Moeti, executive director of Amandla.mobi; and Indra de Lanrolie, Jam Lab director University of the Witwatersrand. The panel was led by Iman Rappeti, former ENCA news anchor and host of the mid-morning slot on Johannesburg’s Power FM.

The panel (L – R): Prof Babu Sena Paul, Indra de Lanrolie, Loren Michelle Braithwaite-Kabosha, Koketso Moeti, Willington Ngwepe, and Iman Rappeti.

Much of the 90-minute discussion was spent on the plight of the poor and their struggle to get access to affordable data. The panel was outspoken about “bill shock” – a recent term referring to the huge bill that people run when their data depletes and they move to out-of-bundle rates without being alerted

Commenting on recent proposals that data should not expire for three years, Loren Michelle Braithwaite-Kabosha said it was a “silly idea” as most people buy small bundles which deplete long before the bundle expiry date. A Consumer Council member in the audience said their call for a three year expiry date was misunderstood. What they are actually lobbying for is that a bundle, when purchased (and not yet loaded to the device), should be valid for three years. Once loaded, it would expire as per the usual terms (usually 30 days).

Speaking on digital migration with regard to spectrum, Indra de Lanrolie said that once the migration process finally starts it would take up to seven years before the vacated frequencies would be available. It is no good to look at digital terrestrial television (DTT) for additional spectrum, as attractive as it may be. The panel unanimously agreed that government should urgently give operators access to available high-demand spectrum. Willington Ngwepe said it is true that no new spectrum has been released since 2003, but he believes that this situation will soon be resolved.

There were some very clear messages for operators: end bill shock by eliminating automatic switch-over to out-of-bundle rates; reduce or do away with out-of-bundle rates; make data options understandable to the man in the street; do much more consumer education to the assist consumers selecting suitable packages.