In what could be a landmark decision for SA’s telecommunications sector, and for consumers, the Independent Communications Authority of SA’s (Icasa’s) complaints and compliance committee on Friday appeared to open the door for Neotel to gain access to Telkom’s “last-mile” copper network.
A written decision is expected to follow in the next few weeks. The decision could have profound implications for the industry as it could mean that Neotel — and possibly other operators — are given early access to Telkom’s network into homes and businesses in advance of local-loop unbundling, a regulatory intervention that serves much the same purpose but which has been delayed for years.
Unbundling was meant to happen by November 2011, according to a directive issued by former communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri. An early form of unbundling, called “bit-stream access” is expected to kick in later this year.
The Icasa committee found that Neotel’s request for access to Telkom’s exchanges and to its copper network, filed in November 2010 — as well as its subsequent referral of the matter to the committee when Telkom refused the access — was valid.
It found, too, that Telkom’s response to Neotel’s request was “inadequate”. Neotel had requested access to Telkom’s Benmore (Sandton) and Rosebank (Johannesburg) telephone exchanges. It sought the access under Icasa’s facilities-leasing guidelines, which determine how operators may gain access to each other’s infrastructure.
Telkom said previously that it had met its obligations by responding to Neotel’s request and that its rival had simply not been happy with the response because it had been denied the request.
According to the committee’s findings, Telkom contravened section 3(2) of the facilities-leasing guidelines that reads: “An electronic communications facilities provider must respond to a request to lease facilities within seven days of receipt of the request stating its minimum requirements for entering into the electronic communications facilities-leasing agreement.”
Icasa spokesman Paseka Maleka confirms that the committee found that Neotel’s request to Telkom was valid and the latter was found to have contravened the regulations by not responding adequately to the request. However, he adds that the committee also found that “for a practical and reasonable solution, Icasa must make sure that it finalises the local-loop unbundling regulations since the authority had until November 2011 to conclude the process in terms of the ministerial policy direction of 2007”.
Although Neotel had requested that the committee impose the maximum fine of R50 000 on Telkom for failing to respond adequately to Neotel’s request, the committee reserved judgment and it appears unlikely that a fine will be levied.
Telkom explains that the committee’s decision is that Telkom and Neotel need to respond to Icasa and that the authority needs to “consider the matter within the context of its December 2011 determinations [on local-loop unbundling] and rule accordingly”. The operator says this must be done within three months, effective from the date that the order of the committee is made. — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media