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Parliament attacks South African telecom operators

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Patricia_De_Lille.jpgSouth Africans will soon know if they will be charged an interconnect fee when making a call from one network to another.

According to media reports today, The Portfolio Committee on Communications is to hold public hearings as soon as next month to have mobile operators bring down their “excessive and exorbitant” interconnection rates as soon as next month.

South Africans are currently paying R1.25 per minute during peak times for their interconnection fee, a charge to enable calls to be transmitted from each other’s networks.

The committee met with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), the Competition Commission and the Department of Communications on Tuesday to discuss the interconnection rates.

During the meeting the committee agreed that it was necessary to call for public submissions on 13 and 14 October.

It will propose that mobile and telecoms operators drop the interconnection rates with effect from 1 November 2009 to 60 cents per minute during peak times.

It further wants interconnection rates to be reduced by 15 cents annually on 1 November for each successive year until 2012 and that this should results in reductions in the actual retail prices of telecommunications.

In a statement, the committee said it based its proposals on the belief that interconnection rates in South Africa were exorbitant and excessive, resulting in extremely high telecommunication prices.

It also believed that this was the consequence of apparent historical collusion between dominant mobile operators in the country. This, it said had “placed profits and greed above people”.

Further to this, the committee felt that ICASA was not effectively regulating the situation and called on the Minister of Communications, Siphiwe Nyanda, to finalise the performance management system of ICASA Councillors as embodied in the ICASA Act.

“The high costs of mobile and fixed line telecommunications have impacted adversely on the South African economy and negatively on citizens, particularly the poor and marginalized.

“There is unanimity in the industry, government, other relevant stakeholders and the regulatory authority that the present situation is socially indefensible and economically unjustifiable,” said the committee.

It requested the department to report back to the committee on the matter by the 30 November, and for ICASA to act professionally, effectively and boldly to regulate interconnection rates in South Africa as a matter of urgency.

The committee said it was willing to introduce a Committee Bill to amend the Electronic Communications Act (No 36 of 2005) in the next session of Parliament to enable ICASA to act swiftly in the matter.


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