South African gov"t rules on telecom"s ADSL services

Von Theo Boshoff

The issues surrounding ADSL services from South African telecom company Telkom have been contentious since the offerings were first made available. They have sparked numerous complaints by users, and a subsequent section 27 inquiry and hearings by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa).

The authority recently published its findings and rulings on this matter, and they seem to be in favor of the end-user.

Some of the most prominent findings from Icasa pertain to ADSL access charges, bandwidth capping, Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with customers, and port prioritization.

Icasa found that ADSL access charges are not justifiable, and that Telkom should only charge a once-off ADSL access fee at inception and afterwards charge for line-rental only.

Telkom is not very happy about this finding, and has been reported as saying that it is thinking of taking legal action against Icasa. Telkom executive for product development, Steven White, says: ?We are concerned that Icasa has made a fraught ruling regarding line rentals, as it does not understand the technical side of ADSL and the way our network is designed. We have contacted Icasa to set up a meeting to discus this, and Icasa has agreed.? A date for the meeting has not yet been set.

Legal action

White notes that it is Telkom?s responsibility to protect its customers and stakeholders, and, if Icasa does not understand the technical side of ADSL, legal action might be the only option. He is, however, positive that Icasa will see Telkom?s point and an amicable solution will be found.

Comment has also been made with regard to Telkom thinking of completely halting all its ADSL services until the regulatory issues have been sorted out. If this does indeed happen, some believe it will be a huge step backwards for ADSL in SA -- putting the country back in the ?dark ages? in terms of ADSL development and uptake compared to the rest of the world.

Notes Storm Telecom director for business development, Dave Gale: ?If this is true, Telkom is being petty. It is like a dog barking after being hit by a blunt stick. I do not, however, think that Telkom will do it.?

Continues Gale: ?Our biggest concern with this entire inquiry and findings is that Telkom has basically been hit with a stick. This will undoubtedly make some people happy. However, it does not address all the issues. The reason Telkom wants to meet in private with Icasa is to educate it about the technical side of ADSL, because Icasa clearly does not understand all the aspects.?

Icasa has also found that the current bandwidth caps are inadequate, and should be increased in line with international standards, and that regulation will be promulgated to this effect. Discussions regarding this issue were basically centered around whether caps should be placed on both local and international traffic. Icasa rules that local traffic should not count towards the cap.

Regarding capped services, Gale says that Telkom has introduced various capped offerings on its Web site, allowing users more choice to buy a package that will suit their needs.

In terms of port prioritization -- another technical issue -- Icasa says Telkom failed to provide any international precedent and financial justification for port prioritization, and, from a consumer protection point of view, all users are the same, and it should be removed.

SLA not sufficient

Icasa also ruled that Telkom should set up Service Level Agreements with customers as soon as possible, and says that the current ?Acceptable Use Policy for ADSL Access Service? by Telkom is not sufficient as an SLA.

MyADSL, the online forum which started the battle against Telkom ADSL, has welcomed Icasa?s findings. It says in a statement that: ?The report is hard-hitting and tackles many of the most pertinent issues that concern broadband users head-on.?

MyADSL is of the opinion that, if these measures as identified by Icasa are fully implemented as regulations, the local broadband landscape can be expected to change significantly.

According to the MyADSL statement, the two major shifts expected would be a big reduction in the price of ADSL, as well as a significant improvement in general services.

?These changes will stimulate broadband uptake in this country, which, in turn, will boost the economy, and, especially, the IT industry. ADSL access will also be more readily available, and not only something that is enjoyed by the privileged few,? the statement reads.

As the rest of the world is fast moving forward in the use of ADSL in their daily work and private lives, through a natural migration from dial-up to broadband, MyADSL believes that SA is not, because of high ADSL costs.

According to the MyADSL statement, members and visitors to its site welcome the report, and are extremely positive about Icasa?s findings. It notes that in a recent poll, around 90 percent of those questioned described the report as ?excellent?.