Neotel to keep fighting for Telkom access

Network operator Neotel says it will keep pursuing access to Telkom’s network because the fight is "principled". By Craig Wilson.


Tracy Cohen

Last Friday, the Independent Communications Authority of SA’s (Icasa’s) complaints and compliance committee brought Neotel a step closer to gaining access to rival Telkom’s network into homes and businesses. But with the unbundling process underway, albeit belatedly, is it worth continuing the fight?

Neotel CEO Sunil Joshi says local-loop unbundling (LLU) — the process where operators gain access to Telkom’s “last-mile” infrastructure — is important to the company for two reasons. “We believe LLU is the right thing for SA, and it offers operators the ability to leverage assets already in the ground and therefore allows service providers to offer services on these. This is crucial if ubiquitous access to infrastructure is to happen.”

In the interim, however, he says the company will continue to expand its own fibre network and will continue to press Icasa for access to Telkom’s network under the stipulations of the Electronic Communications Act that deems Telkom’s infrastructure an “essential facility” that must be made available for leasing to third-party service providers.

Tracy Cohen, chief corporate services officer at Neotel, says it’s hard to know how Telkom will respond to the ruling, but that there’s no doubt it will wait to see the ruling in print before it does anything at all. For now, the Icasa’s committee’s decision has been communicated only verbally.

Cohen says Neotel can’t make any move towards gaining access until the process is final. “Icasa suggests it wants the parties involved to sit down and discuss terms and conditions of access,” Cohen says. The committee says this process needs to happen within three months of its ruling.

However, Telkom may take the ruling on review to the courts. If it does this, it could shift the three-month deadline and further delay a resolution being reached.

Asked whether the prospect of a protracted legal battle is worth the outlay considering that the LLU process has been initiated, Cohen says all such decisions are looked at “from a cost-benefit perspective at some point” but adds that “the LLU issue is also a principled one”.

Though Neotel continues to push for unbundling, it remains focused on building as widespread a fibre network of its own as possible. “[Unbundling] is not the ‘yay or nay’ decision-making tool for us, but we remain committed to it on a principle basis. We believe it’s the best thing for SA,” she says.  — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media

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