The court ruling on MTN and Vodacom’s bid to stop Icasa’s new Mobile Termination Rates is a only a partial victory for the right to communicate, and exposes serious weaknesses in the regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), the Right to Know Campaign (R2K) said on Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, the cost to make calls between different cellphone networks will cost significantly less. Icasa has been given six months to amend regulations handed down by the Johannesburg High court. The court found that the new call termination rates are invalid and unlawful. The case is in relation to the fee cellphone companies charge one another, to receive calls between networks.
According to Icasa’s new interconnectivity regulations, Vodacom and MTN will pay smaller operators 44-cents per minute for calls between them. But smaller networks, like Cell C and Telkom Mobile, will only pay the larger firms 20-cents. Icasa’s aim is to level the playing field.
But Vodacom and MTN have argued they’re essentially subsidising smaller operators. The rate cuts will take effect from 1 April for a period of six months.
“These weaknesses threaten the right to communicate in the longer term, as they allow a practically unregulated communications environment to continue,” said R2K spokesperson Murray Hunter.
R2K campaign said they are acutely aware that MTN and Vodacom’s litigation is opportunistic, in that it exploited serious weaknesses in Icasa’s regulations. The South Gauteng High Court recognised that the reduced termination rates are necessary for the public good.
Hunter said ordinary South Africans are paying some of the highest rates in the world as cell phone companies make profit margins well above global norms.
Hunter called on Icasa to not back down in the fight to regulate the cost of communication.
“We will keep fighting for South Africa’s right to communicate by opposing future attempts at excessive profit-taking by mobile operators. We remain committed to mobilising for a more democratic communications landscape.”
Meanwhile cellphone users on the streets stated that not only are call rates expensive but moving from airtime to data use is more costly.
20 year old student Shameez Osman said with most people using data packages, topping up was hefty.
“Its tough when you don’t work. And young people need to stay connected, be it through chat apps or social media. Most of the time, I switch off my data to save the usage,” she said.
Aziz Parker said he has cut down on calls to his family and friends and communicates mostly via chat apps.
“If you have a Blackberry, you save a lot of money on calls. Its the most cost efficient way to communicate these days,” he added.
Lindy Powell said that she comes from an older generation who doesn’t make use of any kind of social media to communicate, which is why airtime is exorbitant.
“I know that we are more expensive than other countries in Africa and also the rest of the world,” said Powell.
Powell said the young students that she teaches prefer to use social media as a form of communication but are forced to buy airtime to call family and friends who don’t use social media. She said she often witnessed the financial effects that this has on them. VOC (Imogen Vollenhoven
MTN and Vodacom had taken Icasa to court on an urgent basis to stop it from implementing a regulation on mobile termination rates. These are the rates operators pay one another for calls to other networks.
In response, cellphone operator Cell C said Vodacom and MTN have managed to frustrate Icasa’s efforts to increase competition in the mobile telecommunications market.
More competition would have resulted in lower prices for consumers, the company’s acting CEO Jose Dos Santos in a statement.
He said uncertainty over termination rates would make it difficult for smaller operators to confirm their business plans.
“It also negatively impacts on the smaller operators’ ability to bring down prices to ensure all South Africans have access to affordable communications.”
Dos Santos however said the ruling was a step in a right direction and positive for consumers and the South African economy. SAPA