Three months after Cell C withdrew its High Court action that stalled the full implementation of number portability, and some 15 years after the launch of mobile number portability in 2006, South Africans still do not have full freedom of choice when it comes to telephony providers.
Rooted in the principle of consumer choice, number portability has enabled millions of people to change their network operator without losing their telephone number. This principle is supposed to extend to all South African phone numbers.
While over one million geographic numbers and eight million mobile numbers have been ported, it remains impossible to port non-geographic numbers used for toll-free, shared-cost, premium rate and general voice services (i.e. 0800, 0860, 0861, 0862 and 087).
ISPA members have reported substantial pent-up demand from users of these numbers who wish to be able to switch to better, non-Telkom alternatives. These users are usually large corporates or NGOs that have invested in the often easy-to-recall numbers as part of their corporate identity.
Members of SA’s Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA), however, stand ready to immediately port non-geographic numbers and the Association welcomes Cell C’s withdrawal of its litigation against ICASA (the Independent Communications Authority of SA), which was the only obstacle to implementation of a framework which will allow all numbers to be ported.
In 2019, Cell C launched an application in the High Court for the review and setting aside of implementation of the Number Portability Regulations 2018. Despite having a narrow issue with parts of these regulations relating to mobile number portability, Cell C elected to attack the full regulations, meaning fixed line consumers have continued to miss out on competition.
“This predictable and overdue withdrawal by Cell C brings to an end a string of avoidable and unnecessary delays in the introduction of greater competition for the provision of fixed voice calls in South Africa,” says ISPA’s regulatory advisor, Dominic Cull.
All that remains now for the South African economy and consumer to enjoy the full benefits of number portability, is for ICASA to complete its review of the Number Portability Regulations Ordering System Specification and to pronounce the implementation date.
One upside of the delay is that licensees have had far longer to complete their technical planning and implementation. ISPA therefore sees no reason why ICASA should not pronounce an implementation date as soon as March 2021.
“The voice market has matured since the Telkom monopoly days and there is now massive choice with lower rates and better service available without being locked into long-term agreements. Once ICASA has done its work, many of us will finally be able to get a better deal without losing the number associated with their business“, concludes Cull.