Newly appointed communications director-general Mamodupi Mohlala says government wants mobile operators to reduce prepaid tariffs by passing on a planned reduction in interconnection fees to consumers.
At the same time, Mohlala says her department is working hard to push through an amendment to the Electronic Communications Act to make it easier for the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) to regulate interconnection rates.
These are the rates the mobile operators charge one another and other telecoms operators to carry calls on their networks. Political pressure is mounting for the rates — which are set at R1,25/minute in peak times — to be cut dramatically.
“I completely agree that termination rates must be looked at,” Mohlala says in an exclusive interview with TechCentral. “From a wholesale perspective, it would facilitate competition … [by empowering]not only Cell C but also all the newly licensed operators.”
Mohlala says communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda has initiated discussions with the mobile operators. She says the department wants the operators to offer an immediate cut, after which Icasa will intervene with regulations that will see the rates falling further according to a sliding scale.
She declines to say how far government would like to see the rates reduced, but says the fees should ultimately be set by Icasa based on operators’ costs.
She says her department welcomes the intervention by parliament’s portfolio committee on communications, which has summoned the mobile operators to hearings in Cape Town on 13 October.
“We need all hands on deck,” she says. “Parliament, the ministry and Icasa must work hand in hand to resolve this matter.”
She says chapter 10 of the Electronic Communications Act will be amended in the current session of parliament to make it easier for Icasa to regulate termination rates and introduce other regulations.
“We want to amend the act to make Icasa’s ability to execute in terms of its mandate a lot easier,” she says. “We are working day and night to make sure it happens in this session of parliament.”
Mohlala warns operators that once interconnection rates come down, government wants to see a cut in retail tariffs.
“We hope the operators will come up with packages that are more reasonable, at least from a prepaid point of view,” she says. “If there could be some immediate relief to low-income earners, that would be highly beneficial to the consumers of telecommunications products, especially in these hard economic times.” — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral