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CTUF Responds to Proposed Telcom Policy

NEW ZEALAND -- The Cape Telecommunications Users' Forum (CTUF) submitted their response to Government's proposed telecommunications policy, published just over a month ago. May 2nd was the final day allowed for responses.

The association has strong reservations about the proposed policy, specifically the institution of a duopoly until 2005, the requirement that a second national operator (SNO) build and maintain a separate telecommunications infrastructure, the ban of voice-over-IP (VOIP) and the role of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).

These concerns have been raised by many groups representing the interests of business operating in the Information and Communications Industry (ICT).

Recognizing the need to provide adequate telecommunications services to disadvantaged groups, the CTUF questions the wisdom of a duopoly. Stating that increased competition brings with it higher quality service and lower cost, they believe at least two new national licenses should be issued. They back this up by pointing to the significant first mover advantages still enjoyed by erstwhile European monopolies.

New operators, they believe, should not be required to create new infrastructure, with any such decision being driven by commercial rather than regulatory needs. The national infrastructure is an asset, they say, and should be available to all operators, at a price.

Service licenses on a local and regional level should be, "...issued to operators on application, provided they comply with appropriate conditions to ensure that equitable development goals are met..." This in contrast to the current proposal that local operators only be allowed in areas with less than 1% teledensity.

The ban on VOIP for all but the two proposed national operators draws strong criticism, CUFT branding it "unworkable, unsustainable and harmful." Citing a study by the International Telecommunication Union, their response states that "...where IP telephony has been introduced, the competition introduced has contributed to substantial reduction in the prices for international and long-distance calls, which in turn has brought about substantial consumer benefits."

A delay of three years, the report suggests, will not eliminate the disruptive effects of technology on incumbent operators, merely delay the benefits of VOIP to consumers.

Finally, the recommendation notes with concern that ICASA is under-resourced, with neither Government nor Telkom respecting its independence. "A strong independent regulator is indispensable to the development of a properly competitive market element ... and prevent the abuse of monopoly power," states the recommendation.

The CTUF was convened "in response to Government's telecommunications policy-making process" and claims to represent the interests of communication and information technology users in the Western Cape. A region it says has over 800 companies employing 20,000 people.