The parliamentary portfolio committee on communications is expected to issue a statement late on Tuesday in which it will call on mobile network operators to reduce interconnection rates to 60c/minute by 1 November 2009, and to 15c/minute by 1 November 2012.
It is also expected to outline plans to review the Electronic Communications Act to make it easier for the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) to regulate the rates.
TechCentral has obtained a draft of a resolution drawn up by the committee following hearings on Tuesday morning with Icasa, the department of communications and the Competition Commission on high mobile interconnection rates — these are the fees the mobile operators charge each other and other operators to carry calls onto their networks. The statement, which is not expected to change, was to be released to the media late on Tuesday.
Among other things, the committee’s draft statement says the rates, set at R1,25/minute during peak hours, are “exorbitant and excessive, resulting in extremely high telecoms prices” and that they are the consequence of “apparent collusion between dominant mobile operators in the country”.
The operators, the statement says, have “placed profits and greed above people”.
The committee also accuses Icasa of being incapable of dealing with the interconnection issue.
“The high cost of mobile and fixed-line telecoms has impacted adversely on the SA economy and negatively on citizens, particularly the poor and marginalised,” the draft statement says. “The present situation is socially indefensible and economically unjustifiable.”
The draft statement says the committee has resolved that mobile operators should drop the interconnection rate to 60c/minute during peak times as of 1 November 2009 and that the rate be reduced further, by 15c annually, on the 1st of November up to and including November 2012. This would push the mobile interconnection rate down to 15c/minute.
Icasa had resolved to begin bringing down the rate from February 2010.
“As a general rule, the progressive reduction in interconnection rates between 2009 and 2012 should yield concomitant reductions in the actual consumer (retail) prices of telecoms,” the draft statement says.
The statement says further that Icasa should “act professionally, effectively and boldly to regulate interconnection rates in SA as a matter of urgency”.
“The committee further declares that it is willing to introduce a committee bill in the next session of parliament to amend the Electronic Communications Act (the legislation that governs the sector) so as to enable Icasa to act swiftly in this matter.”
Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille says she wants the operators to justify to parliament why interconnection rates can’t come down to the levels proposed by the portfolio committee. She says parliament will hold hearings around mid-October at which the operators will be given a chance to give their input.
“We will advertise the public hearings [and]other stakeholders, such as consumers, other operators, the Internet Service Providers’ Association, and so on, can make public presentations.”
De Lille says the committee will also drive the process of amending the Electronic Communications Act. She says it will take about six weeks to get the amendment through parliament. That process will kick off on 5 October, when parliament reconvenes, she says. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral