Vodacom, MTN, broadcasters legal action unacceptable: Minister

Minister of Communications Yunus Carrim has berated Vodacom, MTN, and South Africa’s broadcasters for constantly threatening (and taking) legal action rather than negotiating.

Carrim was speaking at the launch of the National Consultative Workshop for the National Integrated ICT Green Paper at Emperor’s Palace in Johannesburg on Monday, 3 March 2014.

He took a segue from his written speech to reprimand South Africa’s information and communications technology (ICT) players for favouring court action over continued negotiation.

Referring to Vodacom and MTN, Carrim said “These two companies I’m told have over 85% of the share of revenue in the sector.”

He said that as a department they have done what they could without undermining the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), the telecommunications sector regulator.

“That’s all I can say, except to express concern,” Carrim said, after which he launched into a firm rebuke.

Carrim said that one of the greatest events of the 20th century happened on 27 April 1994 – South Africa’s first democratic elections – which was reached through negotiations.

The Minister went on to ask why a matter should be taken to court when a negotiation will siuffice? “It is unacceptable what is going on here,” Carrim said.

Digital migration set-top box hold-up

An unnamed broadcaster threatening legal action because of a dispute involving the encryption of South Africa’s digital terrestrial television (DTT) and set-top box (STB) control also received a lashing from Carrim.

E-tv is arguing for the inclusion of STB Control, saying that it will boost South Africa’s electronic manufacturing sector and enable them to offer higher quality content.

DStv/MultiChoice is arguing against STB Control, and has reportedly struck a deal with the SABC which prevents the SABC from encrypting its signal on South Africa’s to-be-launched DTT platform.

Carrim said that while there are genuinely people who support STB Control and those that don’t as matters of principle, for most in the sector it “is about profits again”.

“What about what is best for the country?” Carrim asked.

Despite government’s attempts to strike a compromise by allowing broadcasters to decide whether they want to encrypt their signals or not, Carrim said that a broadcaster has threatened legal action.

He remarked that this reaction to regulations and policies that a company might disagree with appears to have become a South African tradition.

Carrim asked whether it is not true that all of these broadcasters are being threatened by Netflix.

Yet instead of resolving the matter and getting on with it, they opt to leave the sector open to fight the matter of STB Control.

“We are five-and-a-half years behind schedule!” the Minister exclaimed. “We will live in the dark ages if we don’t sort this out.”

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Vodacom, MTN, broadcasters legal action unacceptable: Minister