The overwhelming majority of South Africans access the Internet using mobile devices and thus the cost of mobile data has a real impact on quality of life.
In a data-dependent future, affordable communication costs are vital to improving quality of life. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) will shortly publish regulations designed to increase competition in the provision of mobile broadband services.
ICASA held virtual hearings last month to enable the public to comment on its draft Mobile Broadband Services Regulations that, amongst other things, define wholesale and retail markets for the provision of mobile broadband services. The regulations are based on ICASA’s finding that there is ineffective competition in these markets.
“While there is ineffective competition, there is no lack of potential competitors,” says the Internet Service Providers’ Association of SA (ISPA), which represents ISPs that have traditionally been limited to competing with each other on copper and fibre networks.
ISPA believes it is necessary for ICASA to compel the country’s mobile network operators (MNOs) to compete on price with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the provision of mobile data, particularly in the corporate market, and supports the remedies which ICASA proposes in the wholesale APN market.
A client of a certain mobile network should not necessarily have to purchase their mobile data from that network. Mobile users should be provided with a choice of resellers, all competing to provide the best data deal. This is the situation with the open-access fibre network model that has delivered high-quality broadband at affordable rates in SA.
“ISPs would welcome being able to service the corporate APN and consumer market aggressively but when approaching the MNOs, no wholesale products are available or they are quoted a wholesale rate that is above the retail rate. This makes it impossible to compete on price with the incumbents,” explains ISPA.
[APN refers to ‘Access Point Name’, a gateway between the cellular network and the Internet necessary for a device to access the web.]
ISPA has noted developments around the assignment of high-demand spectrum and the licensing of a wireless open-access network (WOAN) operator: the delay in completing these processes means delays in opening up competitive opportunities in the service layer. This should not in turn delay ICASA finalizing the Mobile Broadband Service Regulations.