Internet access, and by extension data and airtime, is not a human right, said Free Market Foundation co-founder and executive director Leon Louw.
Louw made the comments following the #DataMustFall movement that called for mobile operators to cut the price of data.
He cited an opinion editorial from Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet, where he argued that the Internet was an enabler of civil and human rights.
Louw also cited a recent amendment to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which now includes mention of the Internet under the article dealing with freedom of speech.
Just because freedom of speech on the Internet must be protected, it does not mean someone must provide you with free airtime or data, said Louw.
Similarly, the Bill of Rights in South Africa provides for freedom of speech and expression, and freedom of access to information to exercise or protect any rights.
As with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this does not mean tools used to exercise your rights must be free or their pricing regulated.
Cheap and free everything
“We want cheap and free everything and data is no different,” said Louw.
If there are things that need to be made cheap and free, data is behind several far more important ones, he said.
Louw warned that flawed arguments have been made in favour of cutting the price of data.
Among these is that data is overpriced in South Africa, using simplistic comparisons.
Sophisticated pricing comparison that use gross national income (GNI) as a factor are also flawed, as they ignore issues such as input costs and other regional variances.
“Why not do that [use GNI] for anything else?”
“T-shirts, peanut butter, soccer tickets, or train, bus, and taxi fares?”
Another example of a flawed assumption is that the poor must not pay more for data.
“This is not true of anything else, which is why we have welfare. Must building contractors lower the cost of housing because the poor can’t afford it?”
Government intervention based on wrong data
One of the reasons the Free Market Foundation got involved in the wake of the #DataMustFall movement is it believes there is a danger of counterproductive intervention from the government.
Louw said there is a lack of facts amidst the rhetoric and reckless demands that could cause damage if acted on.
Even with the best of intentions, such policies could be destructive.
“Beware policies that have good intentions, and support policies that give good results,” he said.