The Internet Society of SA (ISOC-ZA) has joined with the Online Publishers' Association's (OPA) in calling for an urgent meeting with government to discuss the high cost of bandwidth in the country. ISOC-ZA also believes that reducing the cost of bandwidth is imperative in order to stimulate the growth of Internet usage.

In a statement, the organisation claims that government should become actively involved in making this a reality, as the true cost of bandwidth is clear from the dramatic slow-down in growth of Internet users in SA. In its statement, ISOC-ZA quotes a report by World Wide Worx, an independent research company, which shows that growth slowed down to 6% in 2003.

For 2004, World Wide Worx forecasts an increase from 3.28 million Internet users at the end of 2003 to around 3.68 million users. This means that at the current rate of growth, there will only be one in ten people in SA that will have Internet access by 2006.

ISOC-ZA says that even the introduction of broadband Internet access by both Telkom and Sentech has failed to reduce prices, with broadband remaining excessively high priced and out of the reach of average citizens.

Pointing out that the cheapest broadband access from Telkom costs approximately R1.75/Kbps while Sentech's MyWireless is R2.93/Kbps, the organisation claims that this is 286% and 480% more expensive than a comparable offering from an Egyptian ISP. The Egyptian government has made cheap broadband access a central plank of its ICT policy.

"It is the view of ISOC-ZA that broadband can have a significant impact on growing the number of Internet users in the country and it can certainly help to bridge the digital divide," says the statement.

"Therefore we support the OPA's criticism of the bandwidth situation and join them in calling for an indaba with government, the regulator, the Internet Service Providers Association and other related parties to find ways of reducing bandwidth and broadband costs in SA."

IT Web