Internet users have welcomed new draft regulations that aim to dramatically increase the speed and lower the cost of Telkom's broadband ADSL services.

Draft rules published by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) propose to scrap the controversial monthly fees of between R270 and R680 Telkom charges for using ADSL. The monthly fee is levied in addition to an installation fee and the normal line rental, even though the cost of converting a regular copper line to ADSL technology is a one-off event.

Users also pay an additional fee for the volume of bandwidth they consume. Since Telkom serves almost 100000 ADSL customers, the monthly rental is earning it an absolute minimum of R27m a month.

Icasa says Telkom should charge a one-off connection fee, the normal line rental and a fee for the volume of bandwidth that is used, with no monthly ADSL rental fee. However, the regulations are bound to be challenged by Telkom, which has already threatened legal action if Icasa attempts to prevent it charging a monthly fee for high-speed lines.

During public hearings to investigate the ADSL services recently, Telkom argued that the monthly fee was crucial. Telkom product development executive Steven White criticised the proposal to scrap the monthly fee as "a decision by people who don't understand how these things work".

The equipment and maintenance needed to supply ADSL was so costly and complex that Telkom could not cover its costs with the installation fee or by the R89 a month charged for renting a normal line, he said.

Other elements of Icasa's draft regulations may also invoke Telkom's ire. One is a proposal that a cap to prevent users from downloading more than 3GB of data a month be increased to 10GB. The cap will only apply to the use of international bandwidth, and not to local sites.

Icasa also calls for internet service providers (ISPs) to guarantee minimum speeds in line with International Telecommunications Union guidelines, which define broadband as having a minimum download speed of 256kB a second. At the moment, Telkom's services begin with as little as 192kB a second.

Icasa also wants the right to intervene in any disputes over the wholesale fees that Telkom charges other ISPs for its bandwidth. If that clause goes through, Icasa will be kept busy, as many ISPs object to Telkom's recently altered wholesale fees.

One company, Dotco, is challenging the new fee structure in court, claiming that it makes the service far too expensive to offer consumers data downloads.

Cara Christian of MyADSL, a website for the broadband community, said the draft regulations looked good. That local bandwidth would not be capped is very positive and should stimulate companies into providing more local content, she said.

"The draft regulations lead the way to ensure more affordable and internationally comparable ADSL services." If these regulations take effect in their current form without litigation, "we should see mass uptake of broadband and the increased penetration needed to stimulate the local information technology industry and the economy in general", Christian said.

Other contributors to the MyADSL website describe the raising of the monthly cap to 10GB as a step in the right direction, and praise a clause calling for service providers to install an ADSL service within 14 days of a customer request. Icasa has asked for comments on the draft regulations and has given a January 3 deadline for people to do so.

Last week, research by MyADSL and the University of Johannesburg found that Telkom's services were the best high-speed internet access Its services scored 76% when criteria including speed, cost and quality were assessed. Sentech's MyWireless scored 64% and MTN's 3G wireless service scored 30%.

Business Day