SA revolts against high phone charges

South African telephone subscribers, enraged by high rates charged by fixed-line provider Telkom, are turning on the government and on the company that has near-monopoly status.

Analysts attack Telkom regularly, complaining of high charges, especially for access to the internet, and warn that this could obstruct South Africa, which has the biggest economy in Africa, from achieving targeted annual growth of 6% from 2010.

A study by the Business Leadership group on 15 countries said ADSL costs in South Africa were 139% higher than the average rate in the nations surveyed. It said local calls at peak hours were 199% more expensive.

Clients are also objecting to what they see as poor service.

There are several critical sites on the internet, such as Hellkom and MyADSL, targeting Telkom.

Recently, the Telecommunications Action Group, set up in 2006, took out a full-page advertisement in the Mail & Guardian to criticise Telkom.

It also singled out the government for apathy and attacked the telecoms regulator as well.

“The more of this you read, the more infuriated you’ll become,” the advertisement said.

“South Africans continue to pay some of the highest prices for telephony services in the world. Internet access in South Africa is among the most expensive in the world [in fact, you’ll pay less for broadband in Morocco, Egypt, Botswana and Mozambique].”

Richard Franck, co-founder of the group, told Agence France-Presse: “We are asking for movement in telecoms policy across the board, not just on broadband, but also on basic services. We are not talking only about economics, we are talking about people’s daily lives.”

In the wake of growing criticism, Telkom — in which the South African government holds a 38% stake — has stated that it constantly adjusts pricing so that phones become more affordable for all.

The government on its part stresses that changes are under way.

“There have been initiatives to try to bring competition into the market,” said Communications Ministry spokesperson Albi Modise, pointing out that a second telephone provider, Neotel, launched operations in August last year.

“I don’t think there is a lack of political will. The liberalisation of the sector, the opening of the market to new players is not a Big Bang; it’s taking time.”

Neotel has promised to usher in sweeping changes in the sector but have not yet started offering services to individual clients.

Charley Lewis, telecommunications technology specialist at Johannesburg’s Witwatersrand University’s LINK centre, said that “pricing and services in telecommunications in South Africa” were “very much an issue.

“It is also an interesting sign of the advanced level of consumer activism in South Africa … quite unusual compared to other African countries.” — AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Jerome Cartillier
Guest Author

Related stories

Black middle class boosts car sales in South Africa

Sales of new cars in South Africa have reached all-time highs, boosted by an emerging black middle class, once under apartheid's thumb and now playing an increasingly important role in the economy. The National Automobile Association of South Africa announced this week that car sales figures for the first time shot past the half-a-million-mark in 2005.

Botswana’s Bushmen want their share of tourism dollars

San Bushmen living in the new settlement of New Xade outside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) say they feel cut off from their homeland and from the tourism dollars flowing to one of Botswana's top destinations. About 2 000 Bushmen have resettled in New Xade, set up in 1997 west of the reserve, living in wooden huts and small houses.

‘UN Security Council reform is over’

A failure to find consensus on proposed reforms of the United Nations Security Council has snuffed Africa's hopes to see its voice being heard louder within the international organisation, analysts said on Tuesday. "There are a lot of losers, there is Africa," said Tom Wheeler, of the South African Institute for International Affairs.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday