Telkom dodges questions at Icasa internet hearing

Like school children who had failed to hand in their homework, a 10-strong Telkom delegation was hauled over the coals yesterday by a panel at the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) hearing into the provision of internet access.

In heated exchanges, the Icasa panellists were clearly frustrated as the Telkom regulatory department experts made excuses when asked direct questions about whether Telkom’s tariffs for asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) services, which provide high-speed internet access, had fallen since the service was introduced in 2002.

Although Telkom’s chief technical officer, Thami Msimang, could not, or would not, give details to Icasa, he stated that Telkom’s ADSL tariffs had fallen, despite other internet service providers and consumer activists insisting that the costs of the service had not.

The two-day Icasa hearing into the possible amendment of draft regulations governing ADSL services ended yesterday with major service provider Internet Solutions (IS) urging the regulator to prescribe a mandatory wholesale pricing structure for, among other things, national and international bandwidth. Consumer activist group MyADSL asked Icasa to use international benchmarking tools to establish a maximum one-cost ADSL pricing.

The hearings followed the release of a report by Icasa last year, in which it said: "The practice adopted by Telkom … is financially burdensome to the consumers and not in line with the practice in other international jurisdictions."

Icasa said the charge for ADSL access should be levied only at the start of the service; thereafter customers should pay a line rental fee. The cost of high-speed internet access in South Africa has been described as the highest globally.

At the hearing, internet service providers Mweb and IS, consumer groups and the Internet Service Providers’ Association accused Telkom of charging high tariffs that prevented them from offering competitive services.

Instead of defending its pricing policy, Telkom explained how it connected subscribers to ADSL.

Praneel Ruplal, a panel member who did research and concluded that broadband in South Africa was expensive, asked if Telkom had a strategy to increase access.

Msimang replied that Telkom planned to grow broadband access over the next five years.

Ruplal then asked what was unique about South Africa’s pricing that did not apply to the rest of the world. Msimang said Telkom should not be benchmarked against matured countries.

Vincent Maleka, a lawyer representing Telkom, was unable to answer a question about broadband strategy, protesting that "there was no one from the [Telkom] corporate" level at the hearings to give an answer; it was a corporate issue.

David Railo, an Icasa panel member, asked whether Telkom believed that prices had dropped since ADSL was adopted in South Africa.

To the amusement of the audience, a Telkom delegate said: "Icasa cannot expect us to answer things that Telkom did not prepare."

This is despite the fact that the issue was discussed last year. Even yesterday, some Telkom representatives were at the hearings when the pricing issue was raised.

Outgoing councillor Mamedupi Mohlala thought that with the "wide range of experts" Telkom brought, there would be an answer, since this issue had been a subject of discussion over some time.

According to IS, Telkom charges R477 for 512 kilobytes a second for ADSL services. MyADSL showed yesterday that ADSL prices had actually gone up despite the fact that international bandwidth prices had plummeted over the years.

Mohlala suggested that Telkom provide the regulator with documentation to show that ADSL prices has decreased year-on-year within seven working days. The information would be made available to the public, she said.

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Source:  Business Report

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Telkom dodges questions at Icasa internet hearing