Google has launched a trial program that will tap into unused frequencies in South Africa’s broadcast TV spectrum
The Web giant announced today it will use the unused spectrum, so-called “white spaces” to provide Internet access to 10 schools in the Cape Town area. The goal of the trial is to show that free wireless broadband can be provided over white spaces without interfering with licensed spectrum.
“White space has the advantage that low frequency signals can travel longer distances,” Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, the public policy manager for Google South Africa, explained in acompany blog post. “The technology is well suited to provide low cost connectivity to rural communities with poor telecommunications infrastructure, and for expanding coverage of wireless broadband in densely populated urban areas.”
ZA-FREE started out as a simple request to end the R152 surcharge on Internet access. In effect we are asking for the right to use any of the competing DSL and VOICE services available in the country and to stop Telkom’s practice of insisting that users pay rental on Voice as well as Data on the same line, in effect a policy of double-dipping.
I still believe this demand is a good one and the argument for doing so is valid. However, shortly after instituting the campaign, I realised there was another solution which would probably achieve a better outcome, since it dealt with the existence of the current regime and merely requires that Telkom institute the same kind of practices already at play in the wireless sector.
Everybody knows that when you buy a cellphone, some phones are network locked. This is called carrier preselect. Your phone in all likelihood is already locked to a particular carrier who bills you for services.
Likewise, when you order a landline (from Telkom) it comes with services that are already preselected. It is impossible, as far as I am aware, under the current system to dump voice services and to have a data-only line in the household market. If one is a business, such a possibility exists at a premium.
If Telkom carrier preselect was ended, and your household landline were no longer network locked for voice services, we would be able to prevent Telkom from double-dipping and extorting various surchages.
For example, the line rental would probably be a basic R152 discounted to R100 and that would be that. Cable would be just like any rented device, and you could then choose which services you needed based upon a fair market which was open to competition.
If you needed voice services from another company, you would purchase these services on top of the basic infrastructure supplied by the cable company. Yes, this is what has been left out of the equation all along, the damn cable. Its a word that became associated with network television companies in the USA, and with the digital migration that is occurring everywhere, it is a good word to describe Telkom, South Africa’s Cable company.
In the old days, a phone line would come with a free telephone. Then Telkom decided to charge rental for the phone before shopping this out and turning the devices into another market. Telkom thus no longer provides you with a telephone as such. In fact what is it that the company actually does? How many subsidiaries are profiting from the simple provision of cable services to households, without actually providing any value to the consumer?
If ZA-FREE demands were met and implemented Telkom would probably become three separate companies/divisions.
The first division would merely supply the cable and the basic switching infrastructure needed to access Voice and Data services.
The second would supply data services.
The third would supply voice services.
A competitive environment created by such a restructuring would result in greater bandwidth and better services for consumers. We would not have to choose between cable and wireless, because the system would be integrated and allow consumers to make educated decisions based upon economic need.
A consumer might decide that the only cable services required in a household are data, and use wireless for voice services. Likewise, another consumer might find voice on cable to be cheaper, and data on wireless to be a better option.
In fact there is an argument to be made that Telkom should only be a cable company and nothing more. It should be restricted from supplying voice and data services altogether because these services would be better off if they were supplied by an open market instead of a government monopoly or parastatel.
End of the day, it is the consumer which benefits, not simply shareholders and fatcat CEOs. The Internet surcharge which has characterised the South African telecoms landscape would therefore come to an end and be replaced by a legitimate charge for cable.
Telkom would be furthermore forced to acknowledge that charging line rental for voice services and line rental for data services via carrier preselect was an unfair and invalid practice that resulted in double-dipping and even tripling of costs for the consumer down the line.
I therefore urge you all to demand an end to Telkom Carrier PreSelect! Down with the surcharge on Net Access!
Feel free to circulate and forward this message. Please use the group as a forum for discussion and debate. VIVA ZA-FREE VIVA.