SMS is a tax on the poor: Righ2Know

Poor South Africans pay more for telecommunications services than the wealthy do, researchers and activists told attendees of a recent Right2Know event.

The Righ2Know Campaign commissioned research from the Link Centre at Wits to investigate the “lived cost of communications”.

This research was intended to complement research that looked at affordability through economic analysis, by establishing how people experienced the cost of communications.

It did this by taking into account the trade-offs people make in their lives to afford to communicate, and the impact the price of such services had on their cost of living.

Luci Abrahams from the Link Centre said individuals and households pay between R120 per month for 40 calls and R300 per month for an unknown number of calls and SMS.

“At approximately 3-6% of household income, there is limited financial opportunity to move to the next level of electronic communications usage, demonstrated by the comments about the limitations of owning a smartphone, while not having the money to effectively utilise its greater technology and service capacity,” said the Link Centre.

Data cheaper than mobile services

Indra de Lanerolle, an associate researcher at Wits, built on the Link Centre’s presentation with examples of how the poor effectively pay more for services than wealthier South Africans do.

The reason the poor pay more is because the rich can afford to avoid paying standard mobile network charges for SMS and voice services in favour of data-based services such as WhatsApp and Skype.

While the cheapest on-network mobile voice call tariff in South Africa is 29c per minute (SIM-Sonke, Telkom), a WhatsApp call can cost under 2c per minute on a large mobile data bundle.

Similarly, an SMS can cost anything from 21c to 80c per message, while an equivalent 140-character message on a service like Whatsapp costs a fraction of a cent.

SMS was therefore a tax on the poor, said De Lanerolle.


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SMS is a tax on the poor: Righ2Know