Brainwash alert

South Africa’s telecommunications sector has been awash with news this year, which included new broadband and cellular products, a battle between the Sunday Times and communications minister Dina Pule, and plans to drive down telecoms costs.

While many of the announcements were honest and brought true advantages to consumers, some of the information which came from companies and government institutions bent the truth.

Unless consumers are armed with background knowledge about a subject, their minds can easily be swayed by clever marketing messages or competent spin-doctors.

Some of the announcements and marketing messages should not be assumed as truth without another, thorough look at the facts.

Some of these announcements include Cell C’s Straight Up Infinity advertising, the Sunday Times’ continued battle with communications minister Dina Pule, and the Department of Communications (DoC) and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (ICASA’s) plans to lower telecoms costs.

Cell C Straight Up Infinity

Cell C Straight Up Infinity marketing
Cell C Straight Up Infinity marketing

Cell C launched its Straight Up Infinity contract package recently, offering a smartphone, 3GB of data and unlimited Cell C to Cell C calls for R999 per month. In its advertising the company says that “This unreal deal is real”, creating the impression of exceptional value for money.

The truth: Cell C’s Straight Up Infinity deal offers far worse value than its own pre-paid Supacharge product, and cannot be equated to Vodacom and Telkom’s Mobile’s unlimited call products. The only unreal thing about this deal is how much worse it is than the company’s similar pre-paid product.

Where to next: Cell C has been a consumer champion with products offering great value, and through this, driving down voice and data prices. The operator should at least match the value of its own pre-paid product if it wants to make a song and dance about its new Straight Up Infinity contract product.

Communications minister Dina Pule denying Phosane Mngqibisa romantic link

Sunday Times letter published from Dina Pule's office in 2009
Sunday Times letter published from Dina Pule’s office in 2009

Communications minister Dina Pule has denied that she is romantically linked to Phosane Mngqibisa. Pule said in a 702 interview that she only knows Mngqibisa as a comrade, but has “nothing to do with him”. She added that the Sunday Times, which published numerous reports alleging questionable deals involving Mngqibisa, did not bring a shred of evidence.

The truth: The Sunday Times did bring proof about Pule’s alleged relationship with Mngqibisa, which included a letter from Pule’s office in 2009 (as deputy communications minister) where she nominated Phosane Mngqibisa as her spouse to accompany her an official visit to Mexico in September 2009.

Where to next: Clearly someone is lying. It should be easy for Pule and Mngqibisa to prove that he did not accompany her on her trips as alleged by the Sunday Times (this proof may include passport stamps and hotel documentation). Just provide this proof to settle this debate.

ICASA and the DoC’s drive to bring down broadband and communications prices

Dina Pule
Dina Pule

The DoC and ICASA recently announced their drive to bring down telecoms prices in South Africa. This includes ICASA’s “Cost to Communicate Programme” which will review regulations that impact on the cost of communications in South Africa, and suggest interventions to reduce prices.

The truth: Over the last decade the DoC and ICASA had many similar initiatives, most of which turned out to be nothing more than talk shops without any concrete results. In 2005, for example, the DoC held two colloquiums to find ways to drive down telecoms prices in SA. This included a discussion on “how the policy and regulatory framework can contribute towards reducing the cost of telecommunications”. We are still waiting for the DoC to make good on its promises at these events.

Where to next: More talk shops will not solve anything. The DoC and ICASA can, however, assist telecoms players to make better and cheaper services a reality by fast tracking the DTT migration to free up valuable broadband spectrum, actually handing out broadband spectrum and make it easier for companies to build telecoms networks (using the rapid deployment guidelines).

ICASA LLU deadline

Stephen Mncube
Stephen Mncube

ICASA has set a new deadline for the publication of Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) regulations: 4 March 2014. This deadline follows the initial deadline which required the unbundling process to be implemented and completed by November 2011. ICASA said that it is committed to meeting the March 2014 deadline.

The truth: ICASA has not only missed the November 2011 deadline, but has also missed its own deadline to ensure that a true bitstream product is introduced by 1 November 2012. This is after ICASA chairman Stephen Mncube boasted in 2011 that we are seeing a new ICASA which meets its deadlines. Mncube may want to explain how LLU was “implemented and completed” by November 2011, with LLU regulations only set to be completed by March 2014.

Where to next: ICASA should own up to its missed deadlines. The next step is to meet future deadlines, and make LLU happen like it was supposed to do by November 2011.

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Brainwash alert