The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) has come under fire in parliament for the time it has taken it to craft regulations needed to bring down high mobile interconnection rates.
Responding to a question from Congress of the People MP Julie Kilian over why it has taken the authority more than three years to craft the necessary regulations, Icasa chairman Paris Mashile, pictured, said the authority is badly under-resourced. “We do not have the pot of gold the operators have,” he said.
Interconnection rates are the fees operators charge one another to carry calls on each other’s networks. The mobile providers are under intense pressure to reduce the rate and to lower the retail prices they charge consumers for calls.
Also speaking in parliament, Icasa councillor Robert Nkuna explained that the processes the authority had to follow in terms of the Electronic Communications Act were complex and time-consuming. But he said Icasa had placed four of its nine councillors on the project and dealing with interconnect rates was a top priority for the authority.
But politicians would not letting Icasa off the hook. Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille has also asked for the authority to intervene in the prepaid market, where she said prices were too high.
“Why has Icasa not intervened in the prepaid market where customers pay so much more than contract customers? Why have you not acted? Most prepaid users are poor people. They have paid the operators upfront. There is no risk involved [for the operators, so] why must poor people pay more?”
De Lille also said that based on legal input she had received Icasa could act immediately to lower interconnection rates. She demanded to know why it had not done so. “Icasa should have got its own legal opinion and not just listened to the operators,” she said.
Icasa councillor Thabo Makhakhe said Icasa had sought legal advice. “We’d find it very difficult [to proceed immediately] given the opinions we have received, both from inside and outside Icasa…”
Ismail Vadi, chairman of the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications, said parliament wanted something done about the tariffs. “If the market is competitive and fair and active, we don’t have a problem. But experience is telling us we are not dealing with a normal market here,” Vadi said. “It’s an abnormal market.”
The hearings continue…