Communications minister Yunus Carrim has lashed out at mobile operators MTN and Vodacom for taking communications regulator Icasa to court over its final regulations governing mobile call termination rates, saying the industry’s inability to reach consensus was holding back South Africa’s development.
Speaking at an industry conference to discuss a green paper on information and communications technology policy in Johannesburg on Monday, Carrim described the latest developments as “unacceptable”. He also lashed out at warring broadcasters, whom he accused of holding back South Africa’s migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television.
He warned that the inability of the industry to agree on key issues, and the propensity of companies to take matters on review at the courts at the drop of a hat, was holding back South Africa’s technological progress.
“You know what, we must be hoist by our own petard,” an animated Carrim told the audience, which was made up of government, regulatory and private-sector players. “It is unacceptable what is going on here,” he said.
“We love going to court for everything. I wish we could be more sensible and negotiate,” he added. “This is South Africa today, regrettably. While the rest of the world moves on, we leave ourselves behind.”
Carrim said that South Africa had triumphed over apartheid but was unable to reach consensus on issues such as digital migration and mobile termination rates. He suggested the profit motive was to blame.
“One of the greatest events of the 20th century was 27 April 1994. How did we get there if not through a marvellous negotiation process — Nkosi [Mangosuthu] Buthelezi coming to the party 10 days before the elections, Constand Viljoen not unleashing the defence force, which he could have done?
“It is in the collective interests of our country for us to settle this matter of the cost to communicate,” he said to loud applause.
On the war between e.tv on one side and MultiChoice and the SABC on the other over the use of encryption for digital terrestrial television, Carrim again lashed out, accusing the broadcasters of holding back the country.
“I say to you people, Somalia is moving on, Iraq is moving on,” he said. “We will live in the Dark Ages if we don’t solve this issue. We are tired of the negotiations. We are five-and-a-half years behind schedule.
“There are some people who feel strongly about policy, let me tell you, and they genuinely believe on both sides this is the right way to go. And they are good people, and I wish we could bridge the gap between them. But for most of the people, it’s about profits. Does anybody care about the national interest? No, it’s about profits. Yet all of these broadcasters … are being threatened by Netflix, isn’t that so? They’re fighting amongst themselves instead of working together to prepare to manage Internet TV.”
Carrim said he would leave a window open for negotiation for “a little while longer”, but suggested that whatever government finally opted to do, the matter could end up in court. He said that the industry shouldn’t blame government if that happened, suggesting that it had done all it could to resolve the issue. — (c) 2014 NewsCentral Media