Aside from laudable victories for competition such as the reduction in mobile termination rates, the South African telecommunications sector is becoming a tennis match characterised by endless sets of policy implementation decisions and policy implementation failures.
This is according to the Internet Service Providers’ Association of SA’s almost 200 small, medium and large ISP (Internet service provider) members following a process to collate industry comments for inclusion in the association’s recent submission on the Draft Electronic Communications Amendment Bill 2017.
ISPA is broadly supportive of the Draft Bill with its focus on Open Access as a way to boost competition in the provision of electronic communications services in South Africa.
However, the association constantly raises implementation issues in its interaction with the department, pointing out that most of the tasks set for ICASA (the Independent Communications Authority of SA) when the Act came into force as far back as 2006 remain mere balls in the air.
“A lot of the feedback received from our members on the Draft Bill had to do with this endless ‘to and fro’ telecoms sector tennis match that never seems to end with the consumer as champion. ICASA’s failure to implement makes us all losers,” says Dominic Cull, regulatory advisor to ISPA.
“ISPA’s view is that nothing is going to change until the regulator is reimagined and re-engineered so that it is capable of implementing what it has failed to implement to date, let alone the new tasks set for it in the Draft Bill.
“If we recognise that affordable, quality communications services benefit the broader economy and further poverty-alleviation, why are we not talking about tripling or even quadrupling ICASA’s budget so that it can indeed by reimagined and do its job?”
Cull says that ISPA’s comments on the Draft Bill are clear in that the association does not support the replacement of ICASA, preferring a constructive “regulator reset”. Its comments also refer to the fact that “many stakeholders are deeply frustrated by the lack of progress that has been made; transformation and lowering the cost of communication through the introduction of greater competition are the two obvious examples”.
“Continuing to fail because we have not invested in the right tools for implementation falls within the colloquial definition of insanity — this time round we need to put the cart firmly before the horse,” Cull adds.