Knott-Craig Snr: SA telecoms must change

A unified, well-regulated telecoms network with affordable pricing is the only way to achieve full coverage for South Africa and boost the education and health sectors, according to Cell C’s Alan Knott-Craig Snr.

Speaking at the AfricaCom conference in Cape Town on Wednesday, Knott-Craig pointed to the shortcomings of the South African telecoms ecosystem, with operators focusing on profits as opposed to concentrating on the real end goals of the ongoing telecoms revolution.

The prioritisation of profits by the four rival operators active in South Africa is preventing universal connection across the country and excluding poor and rural consumers, hindering the development of essential public services, he says.

“Telecoms are only a means to an end,” said Knott-Craig.  “We need to start focusing on the ends and we need to get the means right.”

The ends, he specified, are achieving high-quality, well-functioning healthcare and education systems accessible to everyone, which he believes will only be attained through the proper use of telecoms.

Despite South Africa boasting 99 percent network coverage, it is nonetheless one of the most expensive countries in the world in terms of communications costs. As such, Knott-Craig argues that rural communities and key social services such as schools and hospitals will not be able to capitalise on the potential presented by mobile technologies without significant changes being made to current systems.

He called for prices to be reduced and advocated the abolition of all on-net and off-net differentiating tariffs. He also demanded an across-the-board mobile termination rate (MTR) of 15 cents, calling upon the regulator ICASA to take action.

“Make them flat,” he said. “It should not matter to consumers what network they are calling.”

Knott-Craig laid out his vision for a singular unified telecoms network for South Africa. Telling the regulator to draw together the four operators under one umbrella network which would hold all spectrum available across the country, Knott-Craig argued that this would achieve a real reduction in costs to the consumer. 

Competition would shift to different battlefields, he said, with rivals competing in the retail arena over data prices and service. However, costs would be affordable for the end-consumer, with key social services able to grasp the potential benefits presented by communications technologies – helping to achieve high-quality and universally accessible education and healthcare.

“We need to start focusing on these ends,” he said. “Otherwise, what’s the point in telecoms? We’re all just playing around a bit on Facebook.”

Posted in: FeaturedTelecoms

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