Key Issues
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"Key Internet Policy Issues" is a series of contributions from people living in countries new or relatively new to the Internet about what they consider to be key policy issues related to the deployment and use of the Internet in their country. Each text is published under the complete responsibility and with the permission of its author. These contributions were solicited by Alan McCluskey, guest editor, in preparation for a special issue of the Internet Society's magazine "OnTheInternet" entitled "Strategies for development: from thought to action" to be published in November 1997. For more information and comments on the preparation of this special edition see "Addressing Key Policy Issues".

South Africa
An uncertain regulatory environment

The issue which has had the most impact on the development of the South African Internet during the last eighteen months has been the entry of Telkom, the monopoly provider of basic telecommunication services, into the Internet market.

Telkom has a dual role in South Africa as both the Public Switched Telecommunications Service (PSTS) provider and as a Value Added Network Service (VANS) provider. Telkom's entry into the market has led to accusations of unfair and anti-competitive practices from other Internet Access Providers (IAPs) who allege that Telkom is placing its competitors in the Internet market at a disadvantage through financial cross-subsidisation; by having access to privileged information and because Telkom enjoys unfair access to PSTS facilities.

Because South Africa's telecommunications laws have been undergoing extensive revision, the precise legal position of Telkom in the market is still uncertain. The fight between independent IAPs and Telkom on issues of fair competition has been raging since June last year, but recently Telkom took things one step further and made a submission to the South African Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (SATRA) which asks to have the provision of IP access declared a PSTS service. This would effectively give Telkom a monopoly on the provision of Internet access in South Africa and would mean that close to a hundred existing IAPs could be judged illegal and closed down. Telkom's main point of argument is that South Africa's new Telecommunications Act (passed in November last year) can be interpreted so as to give Telkom exclusivity on IP.

Independent IAPs have argued that Internet services are classified as VAN services (a fact that neither Telkom nor SATRA deny) and that Internet services include the provision of IP access (Telkom restricts its definition of Internet services to higher level service such as e-mail and web services). The independent access providers have responded with an extensive submission of their own arguing against Telkom's position.

The fight between Telkom and the independents has impacted on the entire South African Internet market. Local peering does not exist between the independent IAPs and Telkom because of the ongoing fight. This impacts users, web content and hosting companies -everyone, not just the IAPs. The extreme uncertainty is also driving away international investment, since investors are unwilling to invest in an uncertain and potentially extremely closed Internet market.

At the time of writing, SATRA had just announced its intention to make a final ruling on whether or not IP falls within Telkom's exclusive rights on October 14. SATRA will be appointing an Advisory Committee to help it make a decision which is "in the public interest".

For more information on the regulatory situation in South Africa, visit the project.

Anthony Brooks, co-ordinator, the project, South Africa

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ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey,
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Created: September 5th, 1997 - Last up-dated: September 5th, 1997