South Africa’s Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) remains concerned about the lack of transparency and ongoing delays in the introduction of full number portability.
Consumers have received no word from ICASA (the Independent Communications Authority of SA) on why, 13 years after the launch of mobile number portability in 2006, we still cannot port non-geographic numbers used for toll-free, shared-cost, premium rate and general voice services (i.e. 0800, 0860, 0861, 0862 and 087).
“ISPA members receive daily requests from consumers looking to port non-geographic numbers but are not able to accommodate these requests due to the delay in implementing the regulations. It looks like this delay could continue for years, to the ongoing prejudice of consumers,” says Dominic Cull, ISPA regulatory adviser.
Large corporates and contact centres are the primary users of the non-geographic 0800, 0860, 0861, 0862 and 087 prefixes, and they remain unable to switch networks to obtain the benefits of lower rates and better service without losing these numbers.
Many of these numbers are easy for consumers to recall (for example, Lifeline’s 0861 322 322 or CrimeStop’s 0860 010 111). These numbers are easy to remember, and therefore especially valuable, because many public and private organisations have invested significant resources in promoting them over many years. After becoming embedded in the minds of millions of consumers, no rational organisation is going to switch telecoms service providers without being able to retain the number the public associates with it.
A major reason for the implementation delay is Cell C having approached the courts in April this year for a review of certain aspects of amended Numbering Portability Regulations. The company believes some provisions harm their ability to port mobile numbers away from Vodacom and MTN.
Unfortunately, Cell C’s decision to attack the entire set of Regulations rather than the specific provisions it has issues with, is damaging competition in the country’s telecoms sector and harming consumers. Furthermore, a win-at-all-costs approach has meant neither Cell C nor the other parties to this litigation seem interested in a speedy resolution.
For its part, ICASA has thus far failed to proactively and transparently communicate an effective date for non-geographic number portability or provide reasons for the delay.
“While the ligation is ongoing, ICASA should consider promulgating a commencement date of those sections that are not directly related to the porting process of mobile numbers.
ISPA and its members support consumer choice and are therefore ready to immediately port non-geographic numbers.
Since 2006, more than eight million people have chosen to change their mobile network operator without losing their mobile number and over one million geographic numbers have been ported.
“There is a clearly consumer demand for porting. However there seems to be no urgency from anyone to actually do anything about the current situation where the framework is in place but is not being put into force,” says Cull.