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Definitely, reason to celebrate

The recent defeat of South Africa’s Springboks at the Rugby World Cup may have resulted from their players’ desire to return home quickly and snap up some very enticing new pricing plans available for broadband service. Despite the rugby loss, South Africa is poised to become the Southern Hemisphere’s leader in telcoms.

A retail pricing war is underway in South Africa. Vodacom, MTN, incumbent carrier Tellkom, iBurst, and others are dramatically lowering prices while improving consumer choice and service quality.

An example of some of the changes:

…stepping up to the plate is MTN, which has launched an unlimited and uncapped data promotion that gives customers navigating options on MTN’s network at peak HSPA+ speeds from as little as R289 (FJD 70) a month.

And iBurst has also introduced new data packages ranging in price from as low as R49 (FJD 11) per month for 1GB to 50GB at R445 (FJD 105).

New devices such as smartphones and tablets drive consumer demand for data. Serame Taukobong, MTN South Africa’s chief marketing officer, said that with the increase in smartphones and tablet technologies data usage has gone up:

“We have seen a significant number of our customers taking up latest smartphones, tablet PCs, wireless routers and laptop deals that MTN is offering. This promotion is a response to the increased data appetite that comes with the usage of these devices,” he said.

At the same time, the Vodacom Apps Store has reached 100,000 downloads in its first month of operation and the company is now launching a program to support local talent in applications development.

New devices driving consumer demand for data

South Africa has achieved that enviable balance where the pipes are in place, and there are adequate numbers of players at wholesale and retail level to drive widespread adoption. As more consumers buy smartphones and tablets, increased data usage will enable even more volume discounting. Most importantly, there will be a user base in place to support an app development community that will have a local market of millions who are in position to buy their creations.

This thriving ecosystem is something the Pacific Islands can only dream of—as I was reminded by a local telecom CEO who said, “we don’t do applications and services”. You might as well be telling me that you don’t do the future. So much for all the empty rhetoric on ‘innovation’. 

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If I had opportunity to present a case for improving national broadband in Fiji, this is what I would have liked to see dialogue on at the meeting in Suva today:

This site has been tirelessly advocating cheap and universal access. Moreover, this site operates with the view that the citizens of Fiji are being under-served by how the telecoms industry is currently structured. A restructuring of this sector is dramatically in order.

Fostering competition at the retail level should be of utmost priority. In order to accomplish this target, it must be realized that clear and transparent pricing are required at all levels, including wholesale.

To increase the broadband penetration rate in Fiji, broadband must be clearly meant to mean both wireline and wireless access. Presently, infrastructure exists in a very narrow corridor.

Investment in the adequate infrastructure to serve all of Fiji becomes a shared responsibility. Ownership and operation of the infrastructure must be firewalled from retail competition. Either industry consortium or the Govt. has to take lead with a plan to get an infrastructure in place that can serve our people.

The infrastructure must be open to allow for piggybacking of emergency services. It is time for a sensible outline of targets to establish where our infrastructure should be within a few years.

Along with that comes increasing the regulatory capacity of authorities:

CONSULTATIONS ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF A NATIONAL BROADBAND POLICY

14 July 2010, Holiday Inn Suva

The Government of Fiji wishes to develop a broadband policy adopting international best practice with, amongst other things, the following objectives:

I.  Promotion of broadband and penetration across geographic barriers in Fiji;

II.Identification of particular means to enhance access to Internet in rural areas hence bridge the digital divide;

III. Identification of barriers to broadband access both in urban and rural areas and the means to overcome these barriers with particular emphasis on:

a)      Service costs;

b)      Spectrum policy;

c)      Infrastructure sharing; and

d)     Universal Service Funds

IV.Broadband as a mean of enhancing social development;

V.  Promotion of long term interests of end users;

VI.Efficiency and international competitiveness;

VII. Rapid expansion of reliable and affordable broadband services on an equitable basis, with particular improvement in rural areas;

VIII. Promotion of efficient investment and innovation in broadband networks and services;

IX.Fair competition with all telecommunications service providers and allowing market forces to operate;

X.  Provision and promotion of appropriate consumer protection and other safeguards in relation to broadband services where market forces are insufficient; and,

XI.Provision and promotion of environmental sustainability.

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