SA's telecommunications sector got off to a grim start in 2005, with the realisation that it is now more expensive to call local cellular phones than some international destinations.

This is the view of the Communications Users Association of SA (CUASA), which says that while there is no doubt that cellphones are filling a huge need, the question of whether or not much of the cellular industry is a big rip-off, remains on the minds of many.

"Local business and consumers took an early hit when Telkom's 2005 tariff came into effect on 1 January 2005, since it can only be described as absurd, the fact that calls to international destinations such as the UK, US and Australia are now less expensive than calls from Telkom lines to local cellular phones,” says spokesman Ray Webber.

“It is absolutely ridiculous, particularly as the cost of these international calls are still expensive when compared to international norms.”

He says that for once, Telkom is not completely to blame for the situation, as the regulator and the cellular operators are also responsible.

“The fixed to mobile interconnect tariffs are way out of line and it is well known that cellular operators are making a killing at the expense of their users,” says Webber.

He points out that even after the third cellular operator, Cell C, entered the market it appears as though it has had little effect on reducing call costs.

“The fact is that it is now less expensive to call a landline in countries such as Australia, Canada, France, Greece, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and the US from a Telkom line, than it is to call a South African cellphone number from a Telkom line – this is ridiculous.”

“To make matters worse, it's less expensive to call mobile numbers in Canada, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, San Marino and the US from a Telkom line, than it is to call a local cellphone number from a Telkom line, which is absurd.”