In response to media reports that Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri blamed the private sector for failing to "come to the party" on Voice over IP (VoIP) and self-provisioning during a Parliamentary briefing this week, ISPA has issued a call for urgent clarity on the legality of self-provision.
In September 2004, the Minister issued a number of policy directives aiming at increasing competition in the communications sector. One of these directives seemed to allow VANS to self-provide, and indeed, ICASA's interpretation of the directives published later that year confirmed that this was the Regulator's view.
Unfortunately, Minister Matsepe-Casaburri then reversed her position in a press statement released on 31 January 2005, in which she stated: "The issue of self provisioning was issued in the government's policy determinations only in relation to mobile cellular operators in terms of fixed links."
This statement, issued the day before the policy directives were to come into effect, threw the VANS sector into a state of confusion, since the Minister's statement contradicted both her earlier policy directive, and ICASA's published interpretation thereof.
Since 2005, ISPA has attempted to seek clarity from the Department of Communications several times on VANS' legal rights to self-provide.
Thus far, the Department has refused to provide ISPA with a clear answer on the matter, and in the last round of correspondence, deflected ISPA's question to ICASA. Since it is the Department, and not ICASA, that created the confusion in the first place, ISPA questions why the Department has consistently refused to clarify the issue.
Given this background, ISPA finds the Minister's latest comments to parliament unacceptable. Instead of accepting responsibility for the lack of clarity on self-provision and the failure of her policies to encourage competition in the market, the Minister has instead tried to blame the private sector. She is reported as saying "we have learnt that the private sector does not always come to the party if it is not convenient for them".
Ant Brooks, GM of the ISPA, comments: "Convenience has nothing to do with it. If the Minister would like VANS to begin self-provisioning, then the first thing she needs to do is make up her mind if they are entitled to do so or not. It is unfair for the Minister to accuse an industry of not doing something that she has specifically said they may not do."
The Minister is further reported to have said to the private sector: "If you are not going to do so, we will have to do something to make sure you do come to the party."
In response, Brooks agrees that the Minister should "issue an urgent clarification of her own policy, and make it clear, once and for all, if she wants VANS to self-provide or not."