There is more to lowering telecommunications costs than interconnect fees, says alternative telecommunications provider Vox Telecom, warning that piecemeal action could backfire.
Speaking after the company’s presentation to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications around interconnect fees, Vox Telecom CEO Tony van Marken said interconnect was only part of the problem.
“The cost of interconnect is only one of the issues that is denying South Africans access to competitively priced telecommunications services,” says Van Marken. “If we address just that one issue in isolation, prices may not actually come down. If we really want to see things happen, all the obstacles to competition need to go.”
Van Marken says Parliament should consider a bundle of reforms to properly liberalise the market and allow Vox Telecom and others to compete on a level footing with Telkom, MTN and Vodacom.
“First of all, consumers and businesses should be able to change their telecoms providers without having to change their numbers. This is what’s known as local number portability – but at the moment Telkom will only allow customers to port their numbers in blocks of 1 000. There’s absolutely no reason why local number portability shouldn’t be available to everyone, right now.”
The second obstacle, says Van Marken, is local loop unbundling.
“Until alternative operators have access to the link between telephone exchanges and the homes and businesses of our customers, we can’t offer competitive services. This has been on the cards for years but it’s just not happening.”
The final obstacle is carrier preselect, he says.
“Customers need to be able to choose which provider they use for any particular call, so they can choose the best price. Again, this is due to happen and there are no serious technical obstacles – we just need ICASA to push through the reforms that have already been recommended.
“If government is really serious about lowering telecommunications prices for all South Africans, they need to look beyond just interconnect,” Van Marken says. “If they go at it piecemeal, they won’t get the results they want. There has to be a holistic approach to deregulation that creates a level playing field for all market participants.”