On 30 November 2011 the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) released their findings of the inquiry into the ICASA framework for introducing Local Loop Unbundling (LLU).
This comes after four years of what councillor William Stucke described as a “long hard slog”, and it may seem that the regulator has met the November 2011 deadline which was widely bandied around over the last twelve months.
ICASA chairman Stephen Mncube even boasted that we are seeing a new ICASA which meets its deadlines and makes things happen.
This is all humbug. ICASA not only missed the November 2011 LLU deadline, but its feeble attempt to make believe that something concrete happened before the deadline is not much more than another set of deadlines.
Other than a slightly better understanding of the LLU process in South Africa and what needs to be done to make LLU happen, there is little else to show for four years of work.
Do not be fooled into believing that that the November 2011 deadline was referring to some sort of regulatory document or even LLU regulations. The implementation of LLU was supposed to be completed by November 2011.
The South African LLU process started in 2006 when then Minister of Communications, the late Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, announced the appointment of the Local Loop Unbundling Committee, chaired by Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala.
The committee finalised policy and regulatory recommendations in May 2007 to consider the best model for a successful local loop unbundling (LLU) process. The minister then made a policy decision that the unbundling process should be implemented and completed by 2011.
Marwala confirmed in mid-2007 that the LLU process will be completed in 2011, adding that this should not be mistaken with giving Telkom another four years of monopoly.
We now know that Telkom was indeed given another four years of fixed line monopoly, and it will continue for many more years by the look of things.
In fact, by November 2011 nothing happened other than ICASA publishing a findings document which is essentially a list of deadlines for more investigations, committee meetings and consultation processes.
Stucke and Currie appear genuinely interested in making things happen to improve the local telecoms environment, but they may be hamstrung by a lack of political will (or even political interference) and an organization which has become the poster child for a regulator without the resources or clout to do its job.
However, all is not lost. ICASA can save some face if they can force Telkom to cut their IPC charges by a significant margin and launch an affordable bitstream access product – two things which the regulator promised in its document.
It is now time for Mncube to show that ICASA is not the same organisation that everyone has become accustomed to, and show actual results which consumers can see in terms of lower prices and better product offerings.