The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) released on 30 November 2011 their findings of the inquiry into the ICASA framework for introducing Local Loop Unbundling (LLU).
In its findings document ICASA revealed that they will use a phased approach to LLU which includes: planned investigations into Telkom’s access line deficit and the impact of LLU; the introduction of a bitstream service by November 2012; and IPConnect price cuts.
ICASA further said that wireless LLU will not form part of their unbundling process, and the future for wireless networks will only be determined after an inquiry into the unbundling of the wireless access networks.
The reaction to ICASA’s LLU plans was mixed, with criticism levelled at the regulator for simply unveiling another set of deadlines instead of concrete solutions.
Telkom, which is the key player in the local loop unbundling process, said that they have not yet had the opportunity to review the content of ICASA’s LLU framework and will only be able to comment after it has been examined.
ISPA’s legal expert Dominic Cull said that they are disappointed by ICASA’s findings, explaining that it is essentially just another set of deadlines. Cull added that most people know that ICASA’s deadlines should be treated with scepticism and caution.
Cull added that he does not see any reason for bitstream access to be delayed for another year. He said that while there may be a few processes needed to implement bitstream access correctly, it is definitely not a year’s worth of processes.
Cull welcomed the promised IPConnect price reductions even though LLU may not have been the appropriate platform to address this issue.
Cell C welcomed ICASA’s decision and recommendations. “The ‘phased approached’ is in line with what Cell C proposed,” Cell C said.
“We continue to maintain our stance that there is no need for a rush, but the Authority is encouraged to meet their set timelines in order to open up the market, especially for those rural SMMEs. We will contribute where required.”
“As for the rest, we were hoping for draft regulations to come out today. We are very disappointed with the fact that there is not more clarity. The timelines seem long but at least there is movement,” said Jansen.
“I am also very disappointed that wireless access does not form part of this proposed process now and will only be considered later.”
“It is frustrating that after 4 years, the Regulator still thinks it necessary to consult further with industry and introduce further delays. ICASA cannot afford to miss any more deadlines as it is the consumer that is suffering from the lack of competition in offering unbundled local loop services,” said Steyn.
“The findings in the main are practical, realistic and are supported. We note that ICASA will engage with industry on a variety of issues including conducting market studies and MTN will contribute where appropriate and deemed necessary,” said de Vries.
“MTN would like to acknowledge that there is still however a lot to be done and MTN looks forward to being part of the process as explained by ICASA.”
MTN added that they agree with ICASA’s finding that LLU is only applicable in the fixed line environment. “MTN is of the opinion that if the outcomes as proposed by ICASA are implemented within the time frames set out and depending on how implementation takes place, there could be a benefit to competition and ultimately the consumer,” said de Vries.
The local telecommunications industry was expecting the release of a local-loop unbundling (LLU) framework document by ICASA today. However, according to Siyabonga Madyibi, executive for regulatory affairs at Internet Solutions, what ICASA did was completely side step the issue.
“Everyone was hoping to take a major step forward in the process of creating a more open, innovative and competitive marketplace through the release of the LLU framework by ICASA,” said Madyibi. “What we effectively got was an outline of how ICASA plans to get to the framework, which has effectively pushed the entire process back by a year.”
According to Madyibi, ICASA was mandated by the minister of communications to have the LLU framework in place by the end of 2011, so that operators and service providers could start working on the process in 2012. “ICASA has failed to achieve what they set out to do, in accordance with the ministerial directives they received from the minister. As such, they have failed to meet their mandate, in my opinion.”
“The legal threats made by Telkom have obviously been taken to heart by ICASA, so the deadline ICASA committed to earlier this year has now come and gone,” continued Madyibi. “Today was also confirmation that ICASA was ill-prepared for releasing the LLU framework.”
Vodacom said that they welcome the structured approach to LLU and look forward to being able to add fixed-line solutions to their suite of products.