Patricia vs the Cell Monstersby Brendon Bosworth / 28.07.2009
If you read ‘Can’t Beat the Reaming’ a few weeks back, you’ll know the contempt we hold for the dark lords of technological monopolization, aka the big SA cellphone service providers, openly thieving our hard-earned cash, whilst we stand by and watch. That’s why we want to give a big-up to Patricia de Lille. Last week, the ID’s leading lady called on the Competition Commission to launch an investigation into whether local mobile operators are “acting anti-competitively or are guilty of any prohibited practices.” We at Mahala believe that it’s high time someone with clout stepped up to the plate to take on the relentless greed mongering of the two biggest operators, Vodacom and MTN.
Citing her concerns over the way astronomical call costs affect the poor and hinder business, de Lille lays it out nice and straight. In her letter to the Commissioner, she notes that South Africa is the least competitive mobile market amongst its peer group countries, which include Brazil, Chile, Korea, India and Malaysia. She says that SA service providers are charging approximately 1000% more than Indian mobile operators. Lunacy. A call in Cape Town costs 10 times more than a call in Delhi? How’s that for a splintered plank in the nought?
De Lille further outlines that South Africa’s exorbitant interconnection rates are stifling competition. The letter states that interconnection rates increased 500% over a 12 year period ending in 2007, and 515% from 1998 to 2001. That’s one of the reasons the giants have their icy claws around most people’s squishy bits. But really, ‘stifling’ is too kind a word. With Vodacom considered to own 55% of the market share, and MTN taking their rough 35% slice, ‘murdering’ is probably more apt. De Lille has asked that the Commission’s investigation takes a look at possible collusion between the dominant operators, particularly with regards to interconnection fees. She’s also interested to know whether the spike in the cost of interconnection just before the launch of Cell C was aimed at limiting Cell C’s market penetration and resulted in inflating South Africa’s retail cost of calls. The Commissioner has since replied, noting that they are already investigating other cases within the sector, and de Lille’s request will be processed in the regular fashion.
As someone who bleeds from the eyeballs every time I make a call, I’m going to keep close tabs on this one.