ICASA threatens operators

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Communications regulator the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) has indicated it will shrug off its “toothless bulldog” tag by coming down hard on errant operators.

Speaking during the VoiceSA event, in Midrand yesterday, ICASA's GM for markets and competition, Pieter Grootes, said the regulator is working to strengthen its structures to ensure operators toe the line.

“Operators who do not comply will be heavily fined under the regulations and the regulator will also not allocate new blocs of numbers to those operators who are non-compliant. Our mandate is to advance the building of a digital society.

“We also aim to ensure that all South Africans have access to high-quality communications at affordable prices and this is not achievable when operators are not compliant with the regulations,” said Grootes.

He explained that failure by licensees to comply with annual number audits, where the authority requires number utilisation statistics from all licensees to ensure the effective and efficient management of the numbering resource will also result in penalties.

“With regards to the mapping of networks, the authority will be working closely with all operators over the next few months to develop a digital and interactive map of existing networks. The mapping of existing networks is a crucial enabler to develop a more effective universal service and access regime, where it is crucial to know where the networks are to date so that future identification of under-serviced areas can be done effectively,” said Grootes.

The regulator is set to review mobile termination rates in 2013/14, said Grootes, adding that the body also has plans to drive down termination rates in the future.

“The UK aims to reduce its termination rates by up to 80% in 2014/15. This is achievable, because the EU [European Union] is moving from LRIC+ [long-run average incremental cost] to pure LRIC. SA's model is already close to the UK LRIC model.”

However, he noted that SA needs network investment, especially in rural areas, and that ICASA will review the country's investment needs before arriving at a pricing decision.

According to Grootes, ICASA is also close to finalising a new numbering plan. “The authority is considering toll-free charges across networks, as well as standardisation of number utilisation.”

In the new numbering plan, the regulator is set to introduce an online application process for new numbers, as well as online lodging of interconnection agreements, he pointed out.

On numbering allocation, Grootes said for now there will be no allocation of mobile numbers to those that do not already have a mobile number allocation. He also explained that currently operators are being denied the 011 bloc of numbers, because they are not in sequential blocs.

Describing how the authority will tackle interconnection and facilities leasing, Grootes noted ICASA will approach it from a connectivity and competition standpoint. “Connectivity is about ensuring that all networks are able to talk to each other, while interconnection for competition refers to specific regulatory intervention to promote competition in the ICT sector.”

He also pointed out the authority intends to boost its support for the new entrants by allowing them to use some of the services and facilities of established players.

Grootes also indicated the provisional dates for the public hearings on local loop unbundling are 10 to 14 October.

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