Telkom not informed of ICASA report

By Damaria Senne, ITWeb senior journalist
Johannesburg, 29 Jul 2005

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) did not release its report on Telkom`s ADSL costs through official channels, said Xolisa Vapi, Telkom`s media relations manager.

As a result, Telkom was unable to respond to the contents of the report.

"Telkom will respond to the draft regulations, which ICASA says will be formulated out of the findings," Vapi said.

Vapi also accused ICASA of unprofessional behaviour, saying: "It was extremely unprofessional of ICASA to release the report to the media without publishing it on its Web site or giving the report to us, so we could give it due consideration. This is a continuation of the approach ICASA has adopted since it began the hearings on ADSL. We believe it has not treated Telkom fairly since the hearings began."

The report is a result of an investigation that ICASA launched in response to numerous complaints regarding Telkom`s ADSL pricing. At the time of the hearings, Telkom said that it was unfair to be the only operator under investigation, when it is not the only operator offering broadband services, but ICASA felt that the nature and volume of the complaints warranted an investigation.

One of the key findings of the report is that Telkom should be entitled to charge a once-off fee, with respect to line access and usage charges.

"The Authority believes that in the interests of consumer protection and without further justification from Telkom for continued charges for access, that the charge for access only be levied once off at the inception of the service and thereafter charges be restricted to rental only," the report says.

In addressing the high cost of undersea cable rentals, the report notes that the upcoming Convergence Bill will deal with the issue. ICASA is, however, revisiting its enquiry into undersea cables with specific emphases on regulation of the landing station.

ICASA also notes that in other countries, for example, some OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, increased competition in the local loop has reduced the cost of telecommunications. Again, the authority notes that the Convergence Bill will adequately address the issue, as Chapter 8 sections 47 to 52 say that facilities will cease to be monopolised by a specified number of operators and be more accessible to all other operators.

Although ICASA rejected the proposal to use the Indian price model to reduce the cost of broadband Internet access, as it is problematic and contrary to our legislative environment, the authority says that it is in the process of analysing Telkom`s pricing manuals that were submitted this year and the cost of broadband will be analysed.

CUASA welcomes transparency

The Communications Users Association of South Africa (CUASA) welcomes the report.

Says CUASA chairman Mike van den Bergh: "CUASA in general welcomes the move to improve the transparency of services and to make Telkom accountable for the quality of the service that it delivers to consumers."

Van den Bergh says that the move is in line with the trend of lowering ADSL prices and that the trend is likely to continue.

"What is more important is that the quality of the service is starting to increase - by broadband standards, service quality has been generally low," van den Bergh says.

Van den Bergh says that historically, the service has not been transparent either. Users have not known what service levels they are entitled to and they have not been able to hold Telkom accountable.