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Open access fibre a right for SA users

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South Africa’s Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) believes consumers should be free to choose who they buy Internet access or data from and notes that this is in line with government policy. But this is not always the reality.
In October 2016, government outlined the right of consumers to choose their service provider as a key requirement of the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper. It requires fair and sustainable service-based competition “which will increase consumer choice (of service providers and of services), reduce costs and increase innovation”.
“Unfortunately, only those top-end South African Internet consumers lucky enough to be connected to an open access fibre network have their pick of the country’s ISPs and the benefits of real competition,” says ISPA regulatory advisor Dominic Cull. “That’s great for the residents of South Africa’s ‘fibrehoods’, but it’s not good for universal service or consumer rights.”
Open access fibre networks such as those operated by Openserve, Vumatel, Dark Fibre Africa, Liquid Telecom and Frogfoot provide a platform on which duly-licensed ISPs may offer their services to subscribers.
“As a consumer, you are free to choose the best telecoms package for your needs, and this is in line with the government policy of promoting competition in the provision of services,” says Cull. “If a provider does not meet your expectations, switching to another one is relatively inexpensive and quick.”
Not all networks, however, want to provide a platform for competition in providing services, he says. They do not want competition at the services level and actively work against being required to allow competition with their own services.
The reality for more than 80% of South Africans is that they use networks which limit their choice of ISP. For instance, if you are a subscriber to one of the bigger mobile networks, chances are you then have to buy your mobile data from that same mobile network: you have no choice. Current pricing strategies such as high out-of-bundle costs are a direct result.
ISPA’s view is that this is market failure and it needs to be addressed to reduce the cost to communicate, poor service levels and a lack of innovation.
The Competition Commission is expected to announce an inquiry into high mobile data prices by 1 September 2017.
In addition, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is expected to launch an inquiry into competition in the provision of broadband services in the near future.
“ISPA encourages consumers interested in having a choice to participate in both the Competition Commission and ICASA processes by visiting these organisations’ respective websites,” Cull says.