The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) plans a phased introduction to local-loop unbundling, whereby Telkom’s rivals will be given access to the fixed-line operator’s “last mile” of copper-cable infrastructure into homes and businesses.
The authority will implement “bit-stream” access by November next year, which it says is the first phase to unbundling. But Telkom’s rivals are likely to be disappointed that the authority hasn’t taken a big-bang approach to the regulatory intervention. Bit-stream does not involve opening Telkom’s exchanges to rival operators.
Icasa has defended its decision to implement unbundling using a phased approach. In a framework document published on Wednesday, it says it has taken into account the views expressed by all respondents. It has also considered the fact that the obligation to lease telecommunications facilities must be deemed to be “both financially and technically feasible”.
“The authority deems it prudent to mandate a phased approach to the introduction of fixed-line local-loop unbundling,” it says. “This phased approach will involve the authority engaging industry on the issue of a reduction in IP Connect prices by 31 March 2012. The authority will engage industry to ensure ways of introducing bit-stream by 1 November 2012.”
IP Connect is the mechanism that rival service providers use to access Telkom’s fixed-line network. Rival operators have accused Telkom of charging exorbitant fees for this service.
Icasa says it will also conduct a public consultation process to establish a mechanism to address Telkom’s access-line deficit, where, on average, the cost of maintaining lines is higher than monthly telephone line rental fee it charges its customers. “This is a necessary condition to ensure the provision of bit-stream is financially feasible.”
In addition, the authority says it will initiate a regulatory impact assessment on the costs and benefits of unbundling of the various forms of the fixed-line local loop. “The introduction of supplementary local-loop unbundling regulations and a market review will be linked to the outcome of the regulatory impact assessment.”
Mobile operators, meanwhile, will be breathing a sigh of relief after Icasa decided not to extend unbundling to their wireless access networks for now. It says it will undertake a separate inquiry into the unbundling of these networks, but has not set a time frame for this process. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral
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