Cuts in recent years to to wholesale mobile termination rates, the fees operators charge each other to carry calls between their networks, haven’t gone far enough, communications minister Yunus Carrim said on Friday.
“We’ve acknowledged that the costs have come down, but this glide path that [telecommunications regulator Icasa]has had over the last three years doesn’t go far enough.”
Carrim made the comments in a Google Hangout hosted by the Mail & Guardian newspaper.
Icasa has reduced mobile termination rates from R1,25/minute in peak times four years ago to 40c/minute in peak and off-peak periods now.
“Within the next two months, we are going to offer Icasa a policy direction on pricing and transparency,” Carrim said. “We have also met with all but one of the cellphone service providers [and]have now agreed with the parties that we’ve met that before the end of September, we will have a workshop with them on pricing.”
Carrim said the government is not going to approach the issue of pricing “in a way that undermines the independence of the Icasa process”. Icasa has its own programme on the cost to communicate in South Africa.
“That continues, but we as a ministry and department need to understand more why it is that the mobile operators say we’re not being fair to them. This is planned for the end of September,” the minister said.
“Between now and elections — which are some eight months away — at most what we can do is set a firmer foundation for a further review by Icasa of the need to bring down costs. We are utterly clear, the costs are too high.”
Carrim said government realises it needs to balance the needs of consumers and operators. “We will take account, primarily, of the needs and interests of consumers, but we have to be aware of the concerns of the operators, too. We don’t want them to withdraw from South Africa. We’ll find the right balance; I think we can do it.”
Carrim warned that consumers aren’t suddenly going to enjoy lower prices, “but that’s where we are going”.
However, he said consumers have an active role to play in pressuring operators to bring prices down.
“Consumers should also put pressure,” he said. “Civil society organisations must get out onto the streets. It’s not as if government can do this on our own. It’s all of us. You can’t fold your arms, sit back and say government must deliver on this.”
The minister said that although government must be held to account for its “words and policies”, consumers ought to engage with operators directly. “That will put them under pressure, too.” — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media