DATA MUST FALL

Internet access changed the world but excluded the poor. The very people who would benefit the most from the access to the information, education, jobs and income the internet has helped unlock.

To challenge this digital divide, amandla.mobi has worked to amplify the collective voices of Black women from low-income backgrounds by turning every cell phone into a democracy building tool. 

Our Data Must Fall campaign saw our campaign supporters organise their communities, and together we petitioned, protested and sent public submissions. Our campaign eventually secured victories that have increased internet access for over 30 million people in South Africa [1].

We launched our Data Must Fall petition in 2016 and helped get the attention of our leaders. In February 2017, President Jacob Zuma announced that reducing the cost of data was a priority. We continued to build public pressure until both our communications regulator ICASA and our Competition Commission, announced they would be looking into high data prices.

Working with campaign supporters, we began to escalate campaign tactics. Campaign supporters started knocking on doors, putting up posters and collecting stories about how high data prices impacted peoples lives.

We started to win. During public hearings at ICASA we played WhatsApp voice note testimonies from campaign supporters.

Together with Indra de Lanerolle, a Visiting Researcher and adjunct lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, we presented evidence and testimony that mobile networks were charging the poor the highest data prices, entrenching digital and economic inequality. People such as the CEO of Vodacom soon found themselves hauled in front of the commission to explain.

But mobile networks struck back and took legal action against ICASA and amandla.mobi. But thanks to an amazing pro-bono lawyer, and public pressure to name and shame mobile networks, the case was settled.

The campaign elevated the voices and experiences of low-income consumers which began shaping the public agenda. The Competition Commission slammed mobile networks for their anti-poor pricing.

In their final report, the Competition Commission gave the two largest mobile networks, Vodacom and MTN, until February 2020 to reduce their data prices by between 30% to 50%.

 

Vodacom, the largest mobile network announced that from 1 April 2020, a 1GB data bundle cost would be cut from R149 to R99. This was yet another important campaign victory, but our work was not over.

When COVID-19 hit, we knew it was critical to counter misinformation by calling on mobile networks to make accessing news sites free, as well as providing free data and SMS so low-income consumers could keep in touch with loved ones. The petition went viral on our mobile platform, and over half a million people were able to add their name without accessing the internet or having an email address.

Photo of amandla.mobi’s innovative mobile campaign platform which does not require internet or email to access.

Our Data Must Fall campaign continues to this day. We are currently working with campaign supporters to crowdsource data and testimony to monitor the implementation of pro-poor regulations and agreements. We have already begun to identify some loopholes that mobile networks are using to undermine some of our campaign wins. While our work continues, the momentum and impact to date show how the power of amplifying the collective voices of Black women from low-income backgrounds.

[1] According to an ICASA report in 2020, 83.6% of cellphone users are pre-paid customers, and an MMA 2015 report suggested 38.3 million adults in South Africa were using cell phones, suggesting around 31 million pre-paid consumers were impacted by pro-poor agreements between the Competition Commission and mobile networks. MTN and Vodacom specifically reached an agreement to reduce certain data bundle price bundles used by low-income consumers, by at least 30%. MTN and Vodacom as of March 2020, made up 86.3% of pre-paid users. This suggests that an estimated 26 million consumers were impacted by the campaign victory. Both MTN and Vodacom reduced the price of their respective smallest data bundle by at least 30%, while the cost of 1GB dropped by at least 33%.