In 2013, DGMT commissioned a study to look at ways to reduce the cost of mobile data in South Africa in order to contribute to socio-economic development. Subsequently, DGMT has pursued a strategy in which the cost of mobile services provided by public benefit organisations (PBOs) is zero rated, with costs offset by the statutory obligations of mobile network operators (MNOs). These obligations include the funding of socio-economic development and universal service obligations.
Typically, zero-rating is the process of providing subsidised digital content and/or access to the Internet at no charge to the user. One of its key objectives is to increase access to online information and resources for users who cannot afford the costs of data.Romanosky, J. & Chetty, M. 2018. Understanding the Use and Impact of the Zero-Rated Free Basics Platform in South Africa. Princeton University: Access here.
There are few strategies that could bring about a quick and radical shake-up of the social and economic landscape in South Africa. However, one of these is mobile technology. The Census 2011 found that 89% of homes have at least one cellphone in working order, compared to 21% with access to computers and 15% with access to a landline. And yet, the majority of people in South Africa do not have any access to the Internet. The reason is not a lack of infrastructure – there are cellphone towers across the country – but rather the price of connection.
The cost of 1GB of prepaid data is currently ±R150 per GB on most networks. Even if this is divided by three and reduced to R50/1GB, this remains too expensive for most South Africans. Over 55% of South Africans (30 million people) live in poverty, surviving on less than R992 per month.Poverty Trends in South Africa: An examination of absolute poverty between 2006 & 2015. Media release issued on 22 August 2017. Access it here. Currently, they would have to spend up to 15% of their income to buy a modest 1GB of mobile data.
Until mobile data prices fall to below R15/GB – regardless of the amount of data that is bought at a time – mobile data will remain unaffordable to the majority of South Africans; national development will remain hamstrung; and the digital divide is unlikely to be closed.
- A compelling business proposition: Create value at no extra cost, by DGMT CEO, Dr. David Harrison. First published by the Daily Maverick on 29 September 2017.
- We do have solutions for South Africa’s reading crisis, by David Harrison. First published by the Mail & Guardian on 26 January 2018.
DGMT proposes that the zero-rating of mobile services and content, offered by registered PBOs and government entities promoting socio-economic development, should be managed through a Social Innovation Register (SIR). The SIR would allow approved PBOs to provide users with free mobile data access to their online services.
Ideally, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Department Of Telecommunications & Postal Services (DTPS) would champion such an initiative through the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA). This would include encouraging Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to voluntarily support the establishment and functioning of the SIR.
Further support would be required from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to ensure the cost of providing zero-rated services is categorised as Socio-Economic Development spend, whilst the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) would be needed to update the Universal Service and Access Obligations (USAO) of the MNOs, and to provide appropriate regulation going forward. Ultimately, once successfully piloted, the SIR is envisioned to be funded by USAASA.
DGMT is currently piloting the establishment of an SIR to demonstrate the processes and systems required to make this work, as well the potential impact it could have.
Marginalised South Africans would have to access information that could improve health, education and learning outcomes, as well as safety, early childhood development, job prospects and so forth.
For Government it would represent a vast improvement in access to public benefit services offered on mobile platforms to millions of South Africans, spurring on socio-economic development; encouraging significant innovation (especially within the ICT4D space); and accelerating wider adoption of the internet in South Africa – improved access to the Internet has been shown to spur economic growth.
Read more: In 2018 Julianne Romanosky and Dr. Marshini Chetty released the results of a study on the utilisation of Facebook’s Free Basics (i.e. zero-rating) platform that they conducted in South Africa. Read the full study here or for a summary of the methodology and findings, click here.
In short, the study found that offering free-rated content does shape the Internet use and choices of users, with the biggest impact being on lowest income users. Users found the concept of zero-rating confusing, which complicates the process of managing mobile Internet costs, indicating that the interface design of zero-rating platforms needs to be simple and intuitive.
The institutions that provide policy and implementation support to zero-rating have been in a state of flux over the last five years. This has made it difficult to make much headway. However, in 2014, DGMT was able to contribute to the ICT Policy Review Process.
In 2018, two network operators committed to the zero-rating of mobile services provided by PBOs. DGMT is now in the process of setting up a Social Innovation Register that will vet, oversee and monitor PBOs seeking to zero-rate their online content, as well as to report on the impact of zero-rated access.
We are hoping that by the end of 2018, we will have piloted the zero-rating of 20-30 different PBO websites/mobi sites.
With almost all homes in SA having access to mobile phones, mobile technology is a convenient way to reach South Africans. In this learning brief, we share the best advice of organisations with experience developing mobile platforms for social change.
Read our most recent Learning Brief here.
References [ + ]
|1.||⇧||Romanosky, J. & Chetty, M. 2018. Understanding the Use and Impact of the Zero-Rated Free Basics Platform in South Africa. Princeton University: Access here.|
|2.||⇧||Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O., Foy, P., & Hooper, M. 2017. PIRLS 2016 International Results in Reading. Retrieved from Boston College, TIMSS & PIRLS International Study. Access it here.|
|3.||⇧||Poverty Trends in South Africa: An examination of absolute poverty between 2006 & 2015. Media release issued on 22 August 2017. Access it here.|