Communication has always been an important aspect throughout the evolution of mankind. The rise of mobile devices such as cell phones and other technologies has made communication easier and simpler, connecting people who are thousands of miles apart. Furthermore, technological advancement has made mobile devices such as tablets and cell phones the preferred medium of communication.
However, lack of or unaffordable broadband data makes it hard for many to communicate, receive or access information. It’s not only about personal communication, broadband data is a crucial component in any E-governance strategy, because citizens will require broadband data or WiFi to access government services in the cloud from anywhere and anytime. One best practice example in this regard is Estonia, a country covered with free WiFi and unlike her counterparts in Europe, mobile data is also cheaper.
Access to the internet through data and WiFi enables Estonians to apply for government services and solutions in the comfort of their homes. In India for example 1 GB of data cost about N$ 11, while Namibia buying 1 GB of data on MTC cost N$ 219 and N$ 139 with TN mobile. This is just too much for an unemployed poor person to afford.
In their pursuit to empower their citizens with information, some African countries like Nigeria are regulating their mobile data, making it cheaper for majority to be able to afford. In Nigeria, 1GB data cost about N$ 22. Tanzania is another African country where mobile data has become cheap, 1 GB cost about N$ 12.38.
Those supporting high data prices will claim that data is likely to be cheaper in Nigeria compared to Namibia because of their population. Although this may be true, Namibia being one of the few countries on the continent connected to both WACS (West Africa Cable System) and EASSY (Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System) linking the country to international PoPs (Point of Presence) has the capacity to provide high speed internet to every corner.
However, unwillingness of Telecoms to give up their mobile data revenues which has skyrocketed over the last 5 years in exchange for cheaper data has resulted in unaffordable data prices. Telecoms justify these high charges; with the investments they have made to the network.
Today, telecoms have monopolised broadband data, and in the process they have trample over the rights of consumers by stealing consumer’ data in order to maximise their profits.
Thus, it’s important for CRAN as a regulatory body to involve the participation of citizens in the governance and management of Telecommunication infrastructure.
Furthermore, the regulator should also ensure that “White Space” (unused broadcasting frequencies in the wireless spectrum) be used to deliver widespread broadband internet in rural areas, public spaces and in areas where poor communities live.
The commodification of broadband data stifles the rights of citizens to information and communicate. Furthermore, it is my view that the commodification of data in this digital age is a deliberate measure by the rich to keep information out of reach for many poor citizens. Thus, the emergence of hash tag such as #DataMustFall, which aims to persuade regulators and providers to make mobile broadband data affordable.
Affordable broadband data will breakdown the digital divide, between the HAVEs and HAVE NOT. And subsequently, between those who have access to information and those who don’t. More never, technology has become the greatest leveller, offering those with lower hand smartphone devices that cost less than N$ 800 the same capabilities as those with extremely high end devices.
Data has become a basic need, enabling people to communicate, work and entertain. Moreover, demanding cheaper and affordable mobile data for all is a step closer to realising true freedom of expression and freedom for the media. High prices of data are preventing majority members of the Namibian house from participating fully in this digital economy. High data prices must fall.
*Lameck Mbangula Amugongo is country Ambassador of 1 Billion Africa in Namibia. He holds B.IT: Software Engineering, B.Hons: Software Development (Cum Laude) and currently pursuing MSc.