TechCentral ejected from Icasa meeting - TechCentral

TechCentral ejected from Icasa meeting

Paris Mashile

TechCentral was on Tuesday morning asked to leave a meeting in Sandton, called by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) to discuss the cost of telecommunications in SA. This followed an objection by MTN SA CEO Karel Pienaar to the publication’s presence.

Media had not specifically been invited to attend the meeting — this publication attended because it believed the discussion would be in the public interest.

The meeting had been called by Icasa to ask network operators what they plan to do to bring down interconnection rates, the fees they charge one another to carry calls to each other’s networks. High mobile interconnection fees have been blamed for keeping call rates higher than they should be. MTN and Vodacom have been accused of using the rates as a market weapon to keep competition from emerging.

Before TechCentral was hoofed, Icasa chairman Paris Mashile, pictured above, asked the audience, which also included Cell C CEO Lars Reichelt, Neotel CEO Ajay Pandey, senior representatives from Telkom and Vodacom, and representatives from the Internet Service Providers’ Assocation, what could be done to address high interconnection fees.

“We want you to tell us what you intend doing about this concern raised by the whole country,” Mashile said. “We are not asking you to operate at a loss … but your profit must be economic and reasonable.”

Mashile said this morning’s meeting in no way would affect the regulatory processes Icasa had to complete in order to begin to regulate interconnection fees. “That will continue, whatever comes out of this meeting.”

Asked on what legal basis Icasa was asking TechCentral to leave this morning’s meeting, an Icasa official said it was closed and by invitation only and this was “sufficient legal reason” to bar the publication from the room.  — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral

20 Comments

  1. I will cancel my MTN contract when it comes up for renewal. This is the cherry on top of my already poor customer experience. What was the stated reason behind the objection or did Karel Pienaar not provide one?

    In the interim I’ll take this as testament that TechCentral and Duncan McLeod are doing a good job; keep it up.

    Cheers
    Brian

  2. 1. No media were invited to the meeting, not just TechCentral as insinuated here.
    2. It doesn’t matter who raised the objection, it’s the principle of being invited that counts, and it’s up to ICASA to apply the principle.
    3. Industry meetings have certain protocols with good reason and should be observed. It’s easy to ignore this to try and raise a stir.

  3. Responding to Insider:

    1. That is correct. I should have made that clearer in the article. It was not an intentional oversight. I have added the information to paragraph two so that this is now clear.

    2 and 3. I hear your points, but this was a meeting of national importance and most definitely in the public interest. For that reason, I believe that the media had every right to expect to attend. Holding meetings of this nature behind closed doors runs counter to the sort of transparency that Icasa ought to be trying to foster. Too many private sessions in smoke-filled rooms have resulted in what we have in SA today: high prices and a badly skewed market structure. Most Icasa meetings should be open to the public as a matter of course. How that is managed, of course, is open to debate.

    Lastly, I think it *is* important who raised the objection. MTN is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the current interconnection rate regime and stands to lose a significant amount of money if the rates are reduced dramatically. There were other representatives in the room who were pleased that a member of the media had arrived to report on the proceedings.

    Regards,
    Duncan McLeod

  4. “Insider”, does the principle of democracy and an open society not trump the principle of “being invited”?

    I remind you that ICASA is a Chapter Nine institution, and TechCentral had every right to be present to report on the activities of this Chapter Nine institution.

  5. One further comment for clarity’s sake. Having already been told by one Icasa official that the media was not welcome at the meeting, I was preparing myself, under some degree of protest, to wait outside the meeting room until the meeting’s conclusion. It was at this point that I was approached by another Icasa official and told that I should, in fact, go into the meeting via a back entrance and sit at the back of the room. I was effectively ushered into the meeting via the back door. It was at this point that MTN SA’s CEO Karel Pienaar (and several people around him) noticed my presence. Within minutes, Pienar had raised an objection with the Icasa chairman to the fact that I was in the room.

    Procedurally, I have little doubt that Icasa was entitled to ask that I leave the room. That’s why I left with little protest when asked to. But the importance of the debate over interconnection rates means that high-level meetings such as this one shouldn’t take place behind closed doors. FWIW.

  6. Duncan, There are already legal ways to bypass the high interconnect fee’s charged by mobile opperators, even without using services like VoIP. I can for instance make calls to all the local networks during peak periods for under 90c per minute across all networks.

    The question is why do these legal loopholes only apply to some people?

    The networks will only learn their lesson after they get nabbed for price fixing like tigerbrands! It’s a pity it has to go there…

  7. SimonB, is the 90c per minute is charged per second or per minute?
    It’s about right time this price fixing and community SIM cards to disappear from telecommunications market. How can “market related prices” be lower than interconnection?
    Does anyone has idea about interconnect prices outside of the Country to SA Mobile operators?

  8. Go Duncan. South African’s are such rule followers, even dribbling up a 3 point plan explaining how to keep being ripped off, ignorant, misled and in the dark.

    Was it a techcentral stunt? Who cares. I’m just happy someone is there able to raise issue with the fact that the public, who have been ripped off by the cellphone industry for so long, are now expected to remain ignorant of the deals behind closed doors. We all know why the incumbents want this, the fact that we think its OK for them to get what they want absolutely blows my mind.

    Will I move away from MTN? Maybe. But then I’ll only have to move to another colluder. Me I’d prefer the cold hard reality of fair competition to enter this market so that I can make that decision. Hiding behind closed doors isn’t going to create an economic reality just a smooth avenue for operators to make the profits they’ve loved for so long for longer still.

  9. Dwayne, this was no stunt. TechCentral was there to report a story.

    Agreed about your views on South Africans and rules. We are too bloody polite.

    Duncan

  10. Maybe Dwayne Bailey will reveal to us where the audience can seek for best practices outside of the ignorant South Africa? Maybe the North American market, where certain mobile operators are offering free to anywhere calls, but applicable charges to incoming ones? This is a very brave statement Dwayne Bailey. Could you please explain how the end consumer that currently pays 2.85 R per minute will be affected from interconnect price changes? I doubt that you are pre-paid end consumer of any of the South African Mobile Networks. The “critical mass” are the prepaid subscribers not the post paid/contracts. Sounds like the debates around interconnect prices are stressing primarily the service providers and glorified VoIP resellers. It’s a very convenient to hide behind the “poor end consumer”, that is been ripped off. Who actually is worried? End Consumer or Service providers?

  11. Well done Duncan

    High time that somebody stir things up a bit.

    I’m not sure of the legislation in this regard, but I believe that FULL transparency is the only way that these matters should be dealt with.

    Enough with the polite attitude while getting ripped off!!

  12. What are they hiding?
    there are millions of people who didnt even have an idea of that meeting, the fact that they turned away techCentral away clearly shows that they are not yet ready to be exposed

  13. I am most upset at these “behind the door fatcat meetings” which totally exclude the public, and only benefit a select few.

    High time the South African consumer gets off their padded posteriors and start doing something concrete about the poor telecoms situation… it will not improve by itself.

    The public have EVERY RIGHT to know what is going on in these meetings. Transparent my behind.

    And I most strongly object to the date being in February – why not in October, November or December for that matter?

    Regards

    Librarian

  14. Hey Debbie, good to see you here.

    I do hope this backfire in Icasa’s face.

    I can understand the need for invitations, but surely what about transparency? This was in the interest of the public, for sure. What weighs the heaviest here – transparency, or secrecy?

    Regards

    Libs

  15. The communications providers will continue to charge what they like, has anyone noticed that the only time anyone gets rapped over the knuckles is if they’re a single company the complaint is being raised against? (Sasol, ,Tiger etc)

    Entire industries get away with doing what they like. Our competition and regulatory bodies are just paper tigers.

  16. Hey Libs [thanks for the recent ban 🙂 ] I agree with you about the transparency aspect. And here I disagree with you Duncan when you say that ICASA were probably procedurally correct to chuck you out. Show me the Regulations or written protocols on which MTN’s Karl Pienaar can legally base his objection to your presence. Perhaps “Insider” can produce the “industry protocols” he refers to. The only “protocol” I can find is precedent. But precedent – ie, the fact that these sorts of discussions have almost always taken place behind closed doors – is simply not a good enough reason.

    Any argument made that ICASA was right to chuck Duncan out can be met with a strong Constitution-based argument that the media had every right-nay, DUTY, to be there.