South Africans have a tendency to make out that something is worse than it really is.
We can’t help ourselves – we have to exaggerate the negative.
The problem is, when you say something loudly and often enough, it starts becoming the “truth”.
One such lie being peddled, because people hate their cellphone operator, is that mobile data prices are rising.
This goes hand-in-hand with several other inaccurate statements, such as “there is no competition to drive down mobile data prices” and “they all offer poor reception”.
People hating on service providers usually isn’t a big deal, and I get why it happens.
However, these “truths” people tell one another have infected the national consciousness to the point that government officials and members of parliament are starting to peddle the same rhetoric.
If our government starts making policy decisions based on lies and half-truths like these, we’re headed for serious trouble.
It’s fair to say that you pay more than you’d like for data, but data prices are not going up.
Assuming that “high prices” are due to insufficient competition or collusion is also incorrect, and may lead to disastrous policy decisions being contemplated.
If you dissect each claim, you see where the real problems lie.
Claim: Mobile data prices in South Africa are increasing
When folks say the price of mobile data is increasing, they may mean their usage is increasing – causing them to spend more.
If that is what you mean, then say that. It is a fact – the price of mobile data across the networks is not increasing.
This doesn’t mean South Africa’s mobile data landscape is rosy, though, as prices for certain networks have essentially stagnated.
Financial pressure on Cell C also forced it to increase contract prices and out-of-bundle rates recently.
However, the latest mobile data deals from the networks – particularly Telkom’s FreeMe and FreeMe Family packages – show how much cheaper data has become.
Claim: There is no competition for Vodacom and MTN
When industry bodies like the GSMA warn that a relatively small market like South Africa probably can’t sustain four operators – let alone players like Multisource and Liquid Telecom – a story is being told that Vodacom and MTN are a duopoly.
Vodacom and MTN do dominate the South African market, but not due to a lack of competition – you can’t just forget about Cell C and Telkom’s mobile divisions when it is convenient.
If you feel so strongly about Vodacom and MTN, change networks – go to Cell C or Telkom.
Claim: Reception is poor everywhere
Once again, there is no need for exaggeration.
Dropped call rates and data throughput can always improve, and indoor penetration should be better, but do not state that South Africa’s mobile networks all offer poor coverage.
South Africa’s mobile networks reach nearly every single person in South Africa.
Vodacom, for example, has over 99% 3G population coverage and 70% LTE population coverage.
Give credit where it is due and criticism where it is fair – or we may end up in a situation where policymakers cripple networks with burdensome legislation, or attempt to regulate prices in a competitive industry.