Two companies - TelFree and IS - are going to challenge Telkom South Africa to provide interconnect agreements for terminating VoIP calls on their network. For VoIP calling to take off in South Africa, the new VoIP service providers need to be to access Telkom’s network to terminate calls. IS has lodged a complaint with the regulator ICASA about the issue.

VOIP service provider TelFree wrote to Telkom South Africa on 7 September saying that it wanted to interconnect. Telkom faxed its response to the company, saying that it considered what TelFree was doing as a “stand-alone” telephone service and that this was in their view illegal. Therefore Telkom turned down their request for an interconnect agreement.

TelFree’s Regulatory Manager Andries Matthyssen who is pursuing the case is a “gamekeeper turned poacher” as he was formerly with the regulator ICASA.

In his view, the existing law says that when Telkom is approached by a licensed service provider (TelFree has a VANS licence) it is obliged to interconnect if it is a reasonable request. The test of reasonableness is based on criteria like technical feasibility and the efficient use of telecommunications infrastructure.

After a request to interconnect, if Telkom is unwilling to provide an agreement, the service can then go to ICASA for a determination. If the determination is in the service provider’s favour and Telkom is still unwilling to offer an agreement, ICASA can send the parties away to negotiate an agreement and if that is unsuccessful, it can impose terms and conditions.

As Mathyssen told us last week:”As part of the interconnection agreement, we are trying to get Telkom to implement Carrier Select, where the user is able to select which carrier he or she wants to use. If ICASA agrees to this, then Telkom will be obliged to implement”.

ICASA has put out revised Interconnection and Facilities guidelines. These say that if ICASA rules someone is a major operator, they can be forced to interconnect. When ICASA rules that someone is dominant, there has to be a report to demonstrate that this is the case.”

And what about terminating calls to mobile users?:”We have already sorted out a way of terminating on the mobile networks”.

Mathyssen says that:”The Interconnection hearings need to happen. There has been a delay but these hearings will set the scene for the VoIP industry going forward.”