Government and the mobile operators were locked in an urgent, closed-door meeting in Pretoria on Tuesday following the collapse of talks last week aimed at bringing down mobile interconnection fees.
TechCentral has learnt that the CEOs of Vodacom SA, MTN SA and Cell C have been asked to brief communications department director-general Mamodupi Mohlala (pictured) and other departmental and ministerial officials on the breakdown in talks on Friday.
It was not immediately clear whether the operators were briefing government together, or whether they had separate audiences with Mohlala and her team on Tuesday. It is understood that MTN and Vodacom were both planning to release statements following the conclusion of the latest talks.
Government wants mobile interconnection fees — the rates the cellphone companies charge each other and other operators to carry calls onto their networks — reduced and the benefits passed on to consumers through a lowering of retail tariffs.
Communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda lashed out at the mobile operators at the weekend, accusing them in an interview with the Sunday Times of “super exploitation” of consumers.
This was after talks facilitated by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) aimed at bringing about a voluntarily reduction in the fees broke down. The operators couldn’t agree on how much the rates should be cut, prompting an angry reaction from government.
This talks breakdown also prompted Icasa to issue a strongly worded statement in which it accused the mobile operators of putting “nothing on the table” at Friday’s meeting. The authority said that Vodacom and MTN had “refused to disclose their bilateral mobile termination rate agreement” and said the “moral suasion” process has not yielded “positive results”.
Earlier this month, Nyanda issued a directive to Icasa, instructing it to bring down interconnection fees by no later than 30 November this year. Icasa, which has to follow a complex process under law to regulate the rates, has promised to deal with the issue by end-March 2010. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral