Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille has accused mobile phone operators MTN, Vodacom and Cell C of being “arrogant and unreliable”. Her comments came after the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) turned down a proposed voluntary reduction in interconnection rates received from the three operators on 25 January.
“Their proposed reduction of peak-time rates from R1,25/minute to 89c/minute in March 2010, 85c/minute in October 2011 and 80c/minute in October 2012 are as pathetic as they are insulting to parliament and the people of SA,” De Lille said.
The offer received by Icasa from MTN, Vodacom and Cell C proposed that the current 77c rate for the off-peak interconnection rate remain the same until 2013.
The operators made the implementation of their proposal subject to the condition that Icasa undertook to not review mobile termination rates until March 2013.
“When their CEOs appeared before our communication portfolio committee in parliament there was no talk of conditions,” De Lille said. “They have got no right to set conditions for the regulator. The ID supports Icasa’s rejection of the operators’ pathetic glide path and their conditions.”
De Lille’s campaign to bring down telecommunications costs began in July last year, when she lodged a complaint with the Competition Commission calling on it to investigate “whether the operators, particularly the dominant players, are acting anticompetitively or are guilty of any prohibited practices”.
“I am getting sick and tired of these mobile phone operators playing games at the expense of ordinary South Africans and especially the poor,” De Lille said. “The fact that MTN has agreed to sizeable reductions in the rates in the Nigerian market but cannot do the same here shows just how unpatriotic and opportunistic these operators can be.
“I think the time has arrived for us to seriously start talking about an immediate reduction of the interconnection rate to 60c/minute during off-peak and peak-times.”
However, John Holdsworth, CEO of ECN Telecommunications, which has led the fight to have the rates reduced, says they should be reduced to 40c/minute, not 60c. “This figure was corroborated by an independent study commissioned by Icasa,” he says. “The mobile operators are asking for a glide path, but after 14 years of managed liberalisation, it is the new entrants that should be getting the soft landing, not MTN and Vodacom.”
Holdsworth says Icasa’s “refusal to capitulate” to the mobile operators is a “pivotal moment in the local telecoms industry”. — TechCentral, with Sapa