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The sad state of South African broadband Featured

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Recent research has found that South Africa’s broadband prices are among the highest in the world. The scorecard compares the entry-level, median, and average residential broadband tariffs in 80 countries, and South Africa was ranked 65th. According to the report, Venezuela, Russia, and the Ukraine have the most affordable broadband services, while Mauritania, Bolivia, and Oman are the most expensive.

The sad state of SA broadbandNot only do South Africans, on average, pay much higher prices for broadband access than their counterparts in Europe and Asia, but South Africa’s average broadband price is also higher than certain African countries, including Egypt and Tunisia. The only good news in the report for local broadband users is that South Africa has very affordable entry-level broadband prices, ranking in the top 10.

In 2016, the United Nations (UN) took a resolution highlighting the importance of “applying a comprehensive human rights-based approach when providing and expanding access to the internet and for the internet to be open, accessible and nurtured”. High broadband prices could be seen as contrary to this resolution, making the internet less accessible to a broader population – despite lower entry level prices, ongoing broadband use is out of reach of many ordinary South Africans.

It’s not surprising, however, in light of the fact that the UN resolution did not receive universal backing, with Russia, China and South Africa rejecting it. Russia, though, has the second cheapest broadband in the world and China is ranked 23rd.

Not only do South Africans have high broadband prices, broadband speed is an issue as well. South Africa is ranked in the top 100 countries in the world for broadband speed, but still falls short of the global average download speed of 9.10Mbps. 

Singapore, the world’s leader in broadband speed, has an average download speed of 60.39Mbps. South Africa, in comparison, has an average download speed of 6.38Mbps. In real terms, that means that a typical HD movie, estimated at 5GB in size, takes 1 hour and 47 minutes to download locally. In Singapore, that same movie would take just under 10 minutes to download.

Ironically, South Africans are paying some of the highest prices in the world for some of the oldest technology. One of the main reasons that speeds are so slow locally is that many people are still using copper DSL cables. Fibre, which is much faster, is still being rolled out across the country and is limited to a handful of urban areas. What’s worse, mobile broadband is also faster than copper lines, and more easily accessible, but is even more expensive.

Following the #FeesMustFall movement, industry regulator Icasa has embarked on a review of the pricing of mobile data in South Africa, but in light of the fixed-line prices being so high, it is perhaps time that the entire industry be subject to a pricing review. With South Africa’s telecoms space being largely an oligopoly, however, the chances of prices coming down are extremely small, leaving local internet users stuck paying far more than they should be for sub-par service.

Image credit: Copyright: kirillm / 123RF Stock Photo

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