South Africa goes quiet on plan to give 10GB free data to every household

The South African government has gone quiet on its plan to provide 10GB of free data per month to all households in the country.

This is despite promises from former communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni and former public works minister Patricia de Lille.

The plan to provide free basic data to South African households each month was first announced by Ntshavheni in February 2022, saying it would become a reality within three years.

De Lille clarified the plan’s details in March 2022, saying the government wants to provide every household with 50GB of free data monthly by the 2025/26 financial year.

Ntshavheni had previously only mentioned a 10GB data allocation.

However, it appears that little has been done to progress the project.

MyBroadband asked the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies for an update on the plan, but it had not answered our questions by the time of publication.

Unlike the free essential municipal services provided to indigent households in South Africa, the monthly free data allocation will be provided to households regardless of income.

Needy households in the country qualify for 6,000 litres of water, 50kWh of electricity, and free sewerage and sanitation.

“Data has become a new utility like water and electricity that our home needs,” Nthsavheni said.

“At some point, South Africa will say… despite whether you are rich or poor, whether you are employed or unemployed, [every household] have access to 10GB per month without failure because that’s what this government will deliver.”

Roughly a month later, De Lille published the Department of Public Works’ National Infrastructure Plan 2050, where she revealed that the government planned to provide households with 50GB of free data per month by the 2025/26 financial year.

Patricia de Lille, former Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure

It also set a short-term target of providing 10GB of free data to all households by 2023/24, which it missed.

Ntshavheni said the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies would table a plan to provide households with free basic data by the end of July 2022. It is unclear what the outcome of this process was.

MyBroadband spoke to mobile network operators MTN and Cell C regarding the plan in September 2022.

Both said that they were willing to assist but wanted clarity on how the process would work and how it would be funded.

“MTN has noted the proposal by the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies to offer free basic data of 10GB per household,” MTN South Africa told MyBroadband.

“At this stage, it is not clear how the process will work and who will fund the 10GB monthly, however, MTN is willing to work with the Minister and various stakeholders to advance South Africa’s efforts towards building the digital economy and reducing [the] digital divide.”

Cell C’s chief legal officer, Zahir Williams, said the mobile operator is waiting for the department to engage in stakeholder consultations so it can raise its concerns.

He noted that no formal policy, legislative or regulatory processes had commenced in relation to the proposal, which could have massive cost implications for companies like Cell C.

“Cell C awaits the commencement of these processes, which normally include stakeholder consultations and processes that allow for affected parties to highlight relevant concerns,” said Williams.

“For a smaller operator like Cell C, the main concern is the financial impact of providing free data and the serious risk that the huge costs involved, will not be sustainable.”

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South Africa goes quiet on plan to give 10GB free data to every household