2013 was indeed a stormy year for the telecommunications industry with possibly the highlight being the firing of the communications minister, Dina Pule, by President Zuma and the appointment of Yunus Carrim, Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, as her replacement. His appointment was not without criticism from some sectors in the industry: “Another minster with no experience in communication!”
Politically well connected, Carrim holds a Bachelor of Arts Honours and a Masters in Sociology from the University of Warwick, UK and an International Diploma in Journalism from Darlington College of Technology, UK. Critics soon changed their minds. He speaks the right language, but more importantly, he is walking the talk.
In his opening address at SATNAC on 2 September 2013 he said “The past twenty years have been an extraordinary time for the development of ICT and specifically for the mobile communications industry. The mobile revolution has brought many benefits of the modern ICT industry to billions of people. “The next crucial step is to replicate the mobile miracle for broadband. We are very clear! We need to ensure access to cheaper, faster, better quality broadband. It is long overdue.”
Carrim has undertaken to finalise the Spectrum Policy by March 2014. This includes the issue of high-demand spectrum for broadband, which is linked to digital migration.
The Department of Communication held a workshop during the last week of October and presented the draft Spectrum Policy for more input from industry. The minister indicated that the final policy will be ready in December.
Another major event earlier this year was when the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) for once did what industry has been asking, if not demanding, it to do: to enforce the rules and take action on those who do not comply – when the authority seized equipment from Wireless Business Solutions (WBS). It is not as if WBS was taken by surprise. Discussions had been on-going for some time yet WBS chose to play the waiting game. ICASA did what it had to, and WBS ran to the courts, resulting in the High Court issuing an interim order compelling ICASA to return the equipment to WBS.
After many delays the Department of Communications held its first National Preparatory Working Group meeting on 5 September, for the World Radio Conference to be held in November 2015. The working group’s main task is to advise government on how it should approach the agenda items which could have far-reaching implications for the future of telecommunications. At this first meeting the industry was poorly represented, which is a major concern as the future of telecommunications is shaped at the WRCs.
At the recent broadband conference staged by the website MyBroadband, the CEO of Cell C, Alan Knott-Craig accused MTN and Vodacom of anti-competitive behaviour. He also launched an official complaint with the Competition Commission.
The crux of the complaint related to the manner in which the dominant incumbents discriminate between their on-net and off-net effective prices, which has a dramatic and direct impact on smaller operators’ ability to acquire new customers.
MTN and Vodacom discount their effective on-net prices substantially while charging a premium for their customers to call off-net. Cell C regards this as discriminatory pricing and is without doubt anticompetitive.
At the conference Knott-Craig said that in many mobile markets around the world, regulators are opposed to differential on-net and off-net pricing, and in some instances, dominant mobile network operators are facing stiff fines for this kind of discriminatory pricing, which locks in customers and prevents switching.
ICASA also published its proposed call terminations rates which received a mixed welcome. Some say too much reduction too quickly, while others laud ICASA’s determination to reduce mobile costs.
2014 promises to be an even more exciting year than the year that was! Lower telecom costs, higher speeds and greater bandwidth…