ICASA calls for ECA overhaul

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The Electronic Communications Act (ECA) needs a serious overhaul, says Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) chairman Paris Mashile.

Speaking at a panel discussion at the Internetix 09 conference this morning, Mashile explained the current iteration of the ECA is difficult for the regulator to implement.

“Take for example chapter 10, which deals with competition - it's a labyrinth.”

He added there could either be a review of the Act or a complete rewrite, depending on which would provide the best outcome.

“The ECA was intended as a convergence Act, but it has not been perceived as such. Broadcasters still pin their hopes on broadcasting and telcos still pin their hopes on telecoms.”

He noted that part of the reason for high interconnect fees is that the issue fell between the cracks of the transition between the old legislation and the ECA.

However, panellist and former Vodacom CEO Alan Knott-Craig said the biggest trouble in industry is not the ECA, but the fact that government is at all involved.

“The government must get out of communications. Sure, they can drop interconnect rates, they must allocate the remaining spectrum, but then they must let the industry be.”

Get out!

All the panellists, including the regulator, agree government's hand in the telecoms industry is too heavy.

Telkom SA MD Pinky Maholi noted interconnect rates are a prime example of regulations gone awry. She explained that, historically, the interconnect fee was regulated as a subsidy for the mobile operators to compete against Telkom.

“But that grew beyond the fixed-line operator. We now need a path around this issue without destroying investments made by the operators,” she stated.

Knott-Craig commented that if the regulator asked the operators to drop the interconnect fees, without hauling them to court, he is “sure they will drop the rates”.

Angus Hay, IT director of Neotel, said the company would support any initiative by the industry to drop the rates. “Ultimately, we want to get all the costs down for the consumer; however, for that there has to be pressure.”

While ICASA's latest draft regulations on interconnect fees do not directly address costs, the regulator has not ruled out a clampdown on the high prices.

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