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South African MNOs will have to open their networks

South African MNOs will have to open their networks

Mobile network operators and other vertically-integrated telecom firms will allow ISPs and similar to compete for subscribers over their networks – that is if South Africa's Electronic Communications Amendment Bill is passed says the country's Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA).

The industry body has expressed its support for the proposed changes to the current law and says this will instil healthy completion to ultimately benefit local consumers.

Dominic Cull, regulatory advisor to ISPA says legislation requiring telecoms networks to open up to competition should be welcomed.

"Consumers on open-access fibre networks enjoy the highest speeds at the lowest per GB pricing available. This is because they benefit from hundreds of packages offering monthly and fixed terms across capped and uncapped packages. It is time for this kind of choice to be extended to all internet consumers,"

Cull believes opposition to the Bill from lobbyists and other industry players is based on fear of being forced to compete on services and any revenue loss they may experience as a result.

"Companies which have been protected from competition since they were created essentially want government to continue protecting their advantage at the expense of South African consumers. Going beyond paying lip-service to bridging the digital divide and reducing the cost to communicate requires a commitment to addressing vertical integration and enforcing open access. The MNOs should recognise progress for South Africa means opening up their networks and look to the example of Telkom, which has already shown how this can be done,"

Working to reduce prices

The ISPA says industry concerns regarding high-demand spectrum should not overshadow the fact that the Bill proposes changes which will reduce the cost to communicate in South Africa.

It adds that these costs are very high in comparison to neighbouring countries and have not been reduced by much over the last few years.

Siya Qoza, spokesperson for the Department Of Telecommunications & Postal Services (DTPS) - the government department which is leading the introduction of the changes - shares the view that it will increase competition and lower prices.

"The old act is not wholly inclusive. It is barring out a lot of people who are operators. The situation that we are facing now is that we've got about 400 electronic communications network licenses but of those only six are operating. It is obviously not sustainable that we have such a huge number of operators that are remaining outside of the networks. Working with the current operators we need to look at how we transform the system to include these four hundred odd licences that I have referred to. We are hoping that this will encourage more competition on the services side and consumers will get a wider choice and that will hopefully lead to lower prices," said Qoza during an interview with a Johannesburg based radio station.

With ten days left for the original deadline set for public comment, the DTPS has announced that Minister Dr Siyabonga Cwele has decided to extended the deadline to 31 January 2018. The department says this decision was informed by requests for extension received from numerous role players in the sector.

A report released by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) last week found that over the past year, the price of broadband data (1GB mobile prepaid) as a percentage of GNI per capita in South Africa only dropped marginally to 2.35% from 2.48%.

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