Telecommunications operators say the Universal Service Fund should be used exclusively for telecommunications services in underserviced areas and should not be tapped by broadcasters for digital set-top box subsidies.
The operators this week presented their views to the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) on universal service and how the fund, which they contribute towards, should be managed and distributed.
Companies such as Vodacom, Telkom and MTN have together contributed billions of rand to the fund in terms of their operating licences.
The fund is believed to contain between R2,7bn and R3,5bn, according to deputy communications minister Obed Bapela.
But operators don’t want the money used for anything other than telecoms. They argue it’s not fair if the money is used to subsidise set-top boxes needed for digital terrestrial television, as proposed last year by former communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda.
Broadcasters do not contribute to the fund, and should therefore not benefit from it, say the telecoms providers.
Neotel, Vodacom and MTN have now called on the authority to make sure the fund will be used for telecoms in rural areas, as was originally intended.
According to Vodacom, accesss to the fund should be restricted to licensed operators because they have the ability and skills to bring the services to underserviced markets.
The group says the regulator needs to implement a proper framework to govern the fund, one that will allow the fund’s administrator, the Universal Service & Access Agency of SA, to define what needs to be done to bring communications services to rural areas.
Like every other industry player, Vodacom wants to know what money has been accumulated by the fund, and compare it to what has been spent by the fund for these services.
MTN agrees saying the fund should only be used for infrastructure as part of a public-private partnership scheme.
The operators all argue that Icasa needs to ensure the fund doesn’t simply accumulate money for the state.
They are concerned the fund has never been used to assist operators to bring access to rural areas.
They also say the money should be used to roll out broadband Internet access rather than voice telephony. — Candice Jones, TechCentral
- Image: Heather Dowd