South Africa is looking at giving free data to citizens – similar to water and electricity

 ·11 Aug 2021

South Africa is considering giving free basic data to low-income users, similar to the stipends that it currently offers for water and electricity.

This is according to the national infrastructure plan published by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) this week, which focuses on the government’s planned developments in the next three years.

The plan also states that high-speed broadband will be available and accessible in every community by 2023/24.

“The majority of mobile subscribers are pre-paid, at a cost significantly higher than for postpaid (contract),” the DPWI said. “For example, in 2020, the cost of 1GB prepaid data was…more than double that for postpaid data.”

The DPWI also acknowledged that there has been very poor progress in the digital enabling of government services, which it says will be improved through broadband penetration.

“Importantly, the digitisation of government services could be used to improve the quality of service delivery, reduce costs to the fiscus, and access marginalised and remote areas and communities.

“E-services have the potential to reduce the cost of living of citizens, for instance by reducing or eliminating the need to travel and queue for many government services.”

Communication as a human right

Non-profit group, Media Monitoring Africa, has previously argued that the need to communicate and access the internet has become a human right in South Africa.

Presenting to the Competition Commission at the end of 2020, the group said that the country’s laws should now be amended to reflect this importance

Media Monitoring Africa’s executive director, William Bird, said that failing to do so would effectively take the country back to apartheid.

He described access to the internet as a basic human right like water or shelter, which is enshrined in the Constitution. “You shouldn’t have to worry about data,” he said.

He added that internet access was inherently cheaper for wealthier people in South Africa, while the majority of the population have to resort to disproportionately high rates for data to access the internet.

This is because the poor pay higher costs because they cannot afford to pay for data in bulk, whereas those who were better off could do so in terms of data contracts or fixed ADSL and fibre lines, he said

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