Telkom's attack on the country's
independent communications regulator, ICASA, and its threat to
launch legal action as well as to scrap plans to upgrade the
country's high-speed network cannot go unchallenged.
It is common cause that the costs of
high-speed internet services (as well as ordinary fixed line
telephony) in South Africa are "exorbitant" (now
stated by ICASA) and an inhibitor to economic growth. Telkom
disputes this. That is to be expected.
However, ICASA has every right to comment
on the industry as it sees fit. It has chosen to criticize the
pricing of Telkom's high-speed internet services. That is its
The Minister of Communications,
representing the Government's shareholding in Telkom -- let
alone South Africa's policies and programmes with regard to a
declared national imperative to boost broadband outreach --
would be well advised to step in and to bluntly (and with the
considerable means at her disposal) attempt to stop these
bully-boy tactics in their tracks. ICASA cannot afford a costly
legal battle and neither can the country.
In any democracy, tensions between the
public and private sectors and statutory organs designed to
regulate independently and in the best interests of all industry
players and citizens in general are healthy. In fact,
independent regulation goes to the heart of growth and economic
development and in building healthy and vibrant competition.
However, the buck has to stop with
"somebody" and that somebody has been declared by
Parliament to be the Independent Communications Authority of
South Africa (ICASA). Parliament and the people of South Africa
have entrusted ICASA to regulate this industry. It is simply
outrageous that Telkom has made the threats it has and in such a
Threats of crippling legal action against
ICASA's decision-making and national economic sabotage (which
would be the result of severing existing ADSL lines and
disinvesting in upgrading ADSL networks) cannot be allowed. Of
course recourse to law is a constitutional right but citizens
have rights too and it is now up to Parliament and its elected
representatives to constructively protect those rights. Telkom's
threats, if seen through, could have long-term and disastrous
economic consequences for the country.
Telkom has for too long been able to use
its monopoly muscle to cripple and often crush its competitors.
It has entangled ICASA in costly legal action since its
No matter how much Telkom may regret and
allege the "technical ignorance" (as reported) of
ICASA, it is then up to all parties to make sure all their facts
If, indeed, Telkom's high-speed costs are
not "exorbitant", as alleged by ICASA and users in
general, then let us all have some transparency on the issue.
ICASA must be enabled to examine the facts as they really are
and not as Telkom would like them to be reflected.
The IFP has long recognised that ICASA
lacks capacity. It may well be the case, now, that in respect to
its analysis of Telkom's pricing, it needs to do some more
homework and needs to be given more resources to more thoroughly
examine the issue.
ICASA's report recommending that Telkom
should charge a one-off fee for installing high-speed services
has resulted in a highly emotive response from Telkom. Words
like "obscene" and "we'd... be forced to pull the
plug on the whole service" (if ICASA's decisions were
implemented) smack of hysteria and are unbecoming of an
incumbent of the size and nature of Telkom.
SUZANNE VOS MP
[email protected] 083 303