Fixed number portability is a sham. Not only has it been delivered late, but it's far less than what was promised.
This is according to Vox Orion MD Jacques du Toit, who says: “There is no way the vast majority of South African businesses or consumers will benefit from the way the system has been set up. It’s taken nearly six years since the telecoms market was officially deregulated to come up with something that doesn’t actually work.”
The intention of number portability is to increase competition by allowing customers to change providers without changing their numbers.
“For a business your telephone number is like your ID, you don’t change it,” says Du Toit. “That is the single biggest thing that locks customers in to contracts and service providers that aren’t delivering value.”
Full fixed number portability was supposed to have been available in late 2008, says Du Toit.
“We have not only got it late, we have got much less than what was promised. After intense lobbying by Telkom, Icasa has announced that only customers with blocks of 1 000 consecutive numbers or more will be able to port their numbers.”
Only a tiny handful of South Africa’s largest enterprises will qualify, says Du Toit. “It does absolutely nothing for the larger market. It’s a sham: on paper it looks as though we have number portability, but in reality the incumbents have got exactly what they wanted.”
Du Toit notes that full number portability is promised for some time next year, but says Vox Orion has little faith this deadline will be met.
“The deadlines have shifted many times already and we fully expect them to shift again. Telkom is claiming there are “technical difficulties, but we know they are using the time to lock as many customers as possible into new three- to five-year contracts.”
At the moment, adds Du Toit, a customer who wants to make use of an alternative provider will actually face higher costs: “Nobody wants to lose their old numbers, so they will end up with a second provider, a second line rental bill, another port on their PBX and so on. This is not what competition is supposed to be about.”