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Data must be attacked, but by precision strike

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The campaign to target the cost of data runs the risk of missing the point, that data prices have in fact plunged – but not for the poor. By ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When a hashtag campaign tells us that #DataMustFall, it’s easy to be caught up in the outrage at high data costs and the enthusiasm for cheap data. Aside from the operators who profit when prices remain high, no one would argue against it.

But there is one flaw in the campaign: it does not make it clear which data prices must be targeted, and why.

That’s important, because it is easy for the operators to argue that data has indeed fallen. The average price of data bundles has been cut by anywhere from 20 per cent to 50 per cent, depending on which bundles from which operators one buys. As a result, the operators can complain that they are not given credit for bringing down the cost of data.

That’s a devilishly disingenuous argument, though. Data has fallen only for the wealthy and the well-off, who can afford to buy large bundles upfront. For example, someone buying a 20GB monthly bundle from Cell C or MTN will pay only R499 a month, or 2.5c per Megabyte of data. That’s among the cheapest in the world. However, to afford that kind of bundle, you need to be earning a fairly decent salary.

For a 500MB bundle, the cost is as low as R39 a month on MTN, Cell C and Telkom Mobile. That works out at 8c per Megabyte. That’s not too shabby, either.

What is shabby is that these bundles are described as affordable, based on the per Megabyte cost.

The problem is that the bundles are not being sold per Megabyte. The problem is that entry-level smartphone owners are buying data only when they use it. The problem is that pay-as-you-go data comes off airtime. And the problem is that airtime data is the most expensive data one can buy.

It works like this: pay-as-you-go data, also described as ad hoc data because it is bought only when used, is billed at the ceiling price of data. On Vodacom, that is R2 per Megabyte. On MTN it is R1, and on Cell C it’s 99c.

Why would people endure such high costs when they could be paying as little as 8c per Megabyte? There are two answers.

The first is that at least a quarter of smartphone users are not incurring those costs. They know from hearsay that the moment they activate the Internet or data access on their phones, it starts chewing into their airtime. While there are valid explanations for this phenomenon – mainly apps updating in background or apps polling servers for status updates – it is perceived as data or airtime being stolen. It is estimated that a full 25 per cent of smartphone users do not access the Internet for these and related reasons.

The second answer is one that is a matter of pure economics. Those on the lowest income levels or earning no income will still go to great lengths to buy a prepaid voice package, as communication has become a basic human need. The fact that bundles start as low as R5 for a specified number of minutes provides the clue to just how little some voice customers can afford.

Data is not perceived as an essential purchase by most people in these segments, and is almost never bought in bundles. Even bundles as small as R25, which would achieve major savings in the cost of ad hoc data, are regarded as unaffordable.

As a result, for those who cannot afford data bundles, ad hoc usage on apps like WhatsApp, Facebook and email is almost always at the ceiling price. This means it is the ceiling price of data that must fall.

The networks call these out-of-bundle rates, but that in itself is a misnomer. It implies that it is a penalty for not buying bundles, and that further implies it is the consumer’s own fault. In other words, people are being punished for being poor.

It is ironic that it is only the once-vilified Telkom that seems to have understood this message. With any airtime recharge of R5 or up on its SIM-Sonke prepaid deals, the ceiling price of data is 29c per Megabyte. That, rather than a R5 data bundle, is what one might call affordable, despite the fact that it still limits how much usage can be made of data if most of one’s bundle is needed for voice.

Since 2011, when the smartphone revolution began in earnest in South Africa, World Wide Worx has been calling for the regulator, Icasa, to put a mandatory and affordable ceiling on the price of data. That could range from 20c to 40c, but Telkom has set a good precedent at 29c per Megabyte.

This is an obvious solution, yet it appears that the authorities would rather milk the situation for as long as it can. The Minister of Communications has mandated Icasa to investigate whether high data prices are a result of lack of competition. In other words, let’s build more time and cost into the equation, rather than acknowledge what has been obvious all along.

Some have called for data prices to be halved, but that still leaves the ad hoc user paying exorbitant rates ranging from 50c to R1 per Megabyte.

Yes, data must fall. But, rather than the carpet-bombing approach taken by a one-dimensional campaign, we need a precision strike that takes out the real enemy, namely the punitive ceiling price of mobile data.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Jaguar drives dictionary definition

Jaguar is calling for the Oxford English Dictionary and Oxford Dictionaries to update their online definition of the word ‘car’

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Jaguar is spearheading a campaign for the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and Oxford Dictionaries (OxfordDictionaries.com) to change their official online definitions of the word ‘car’.

The I-PACE, Jaguar’s all-electric performance SUV, is the 2019 World Car of the Year and European Car of the Year. However, strictly speaking, the zero-emission vehicle isn’t defined as a car.

The OED, the principal historical dictionary of the English language, defines a ‘car’ in its online dictionary as: ‘a road vehicle powered by a motor (usually an internal combustion engine) designed to carry a driver and a small number of passengers, and usually having two front and two rear wheels, esp. for private, commercial, or leisure use’.

Whereas the current definition of a ‘car’ on Oxford Dictionaries.com, a collection of dictionary websites produced by Oxford University Press (OUP), the publishing house of the University of Oxford, is: ‘A road vehicle, typically with four wheels, powered by an internal combustion engine and able to carry a small number of people.’

To remedy the situation, Jaguar has submitted a formal application to the OED and OxfordDictionaries.com to have the definitions updated to include additional powertrains, including electric vehicles (EV).

David Browne, head of Jaguar Land Rover’s naming committee, said: “A lot of time and thought is put into the name of any new vehicle or technology to ensure it is consumer friendly, so it’s surprising to see that the definition of the car is a little outdated. We are therefore inviting the Oxford English Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionaries to update its online classification to reflect the shift from traditional internal combustion engines (ICE) towards more sustainable powertrains.”

The Oxford English Dictionary is widely regarded as the accepted authority on the English language. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of 600,000 words – past and present – from across the English-speaking world.

Jaguar unveiled the I-PACE, its first all-electric vehicle, last year to deliver sustainable sports car performance, next-generation artificial intelligence (AI) technology and five-seat SUV practicality.

Featuring a state-of-the-art 90kWh lithium-ion battery, two Jaguar-designed motors and a bespoke aluminium structure, the I-PACE is capable of 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds and a range of up to 470km (WLTP).

While both the Oxford English Dictionary and Oxford Dictionaries review the application, Jaguar is encouraging people to get behind the campaign by asking how the word ‘car’ should be defined. Contact Jaguar on TwitterFacebook and Instagram using #RedefineTheCar with your thoughts.

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How Internet blocks visually impaired

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Picture: Amelie-Benoist / Getty Images

A pervasive “digital divide” inhibits blind people from accessing the Internet, according to a study conducted by Nucleus Research for Deque Systems, an accessibility software company specialising in digital equality. This results in visits to websites being abandoned, further resulting in a missed market opportunity for the websites in question.

The study, which conducted in-depth interviews with 73 U.S. adults who are blind or have severe visual impairments, revealed that two-thirds of the Internet transactions initiated by people with vision impairments end in abandonment because the websites they visit aren’t accessible enough. Ninety percent of those surveyed said they regularly call a site’s customer service to report inaccessibility and have no choice but to visit another, more accessible site to make the transaction.

The Nucleus study also scanned hundreds of websites in the e-commerce, news and information and government categories and found that 70 percent had certain “critical blockers” that rendered them inaccessible to visually impaired users.

“Besides the moral dilemma and legal risk, businesses with inaccessible websites are missing a huge revenue opportunity by ignoring an untapped market,” says Preety Kumar, CEO of Deque Systems. “Among internet retailers specifically, two-thirds of the top ten online retailers had serious accessibility issues, meaning they are leaving $6.9 billion in potential North American e-commerce revenues on the table.”

Web accessibility refers to the ability of people with disabilities to independently gather information, complete transactions, or communicate on the Internet. Most visually impaired Internet users rely on assistive technologies like screen readers or screen magnifiers to render sites perceivable and operable. However, these assistive technologies require that websites be built with accessibility in mind and optimized to interface with assistive technology, in order to convey information in an accurate and understandable manner.

Critical accessibility blockers can vary across industries. In e-commerce, problems include issues like missing form and button labels (thereby making forms or the “checkout” button invisible without context). Amazon, Best Buy and Target were found to be accessibility leaders in this space. Additionally, the study found:

  • Eight out of ten news sites had significant accessibility issues.
  • Seven out of ten blind persons reported being unable to access information and services through government websites, including Medicare’s site.
  • Fewer than one in three websites have clear contact information or instructions for blind persons to seek help if they encounter accessibility issues, meaning many have low levels of success in reporting and solving these problems.

“A focus on accessibility needs to be a core part of the website design and development process,” continues Kumar. “Considering accessibility as early as the conception phase, and proactively building and testing sites for accessibility as they move towards production, is significantly more effective than remediating it later, helping organizations save significant time and resources while avoiding unnecessary customer grievances.”

To download the report, visit: https://accessibility.deque.com/nucleus-accessibility-research-2019

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