Strained relations between Icasa and cell giants

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Any doubts about the condition of the relationship between the communications industry regulator and industry heavyweights Vodacom and MTN that have arisen because the operators have waged a fierce court battle against it, could have been dispelled yesterday.

While counsel for the cellular network operators animatedly tore to shreds the evidence that had been presented by the Independent Communication Authority of SA (Icasa) the previous day, William Stucke, an Icasa councillor, was furiously scribbling notes on a pad that was clearly emblazoned with Vodacom’s logo and distinctive red brand colour.

But whatever Icasa’s allegiance, it pulled a fast one on the operators on Wednesday when it gazetted an amendment to the call termination regulations, which govern the rates operators pay to receive calls on each other’s networks, without giving prior notice to the court.

When it did inform the court and its audience, Icasa’s legal counsel gave fuel to the arguments of fellow respondents Telkom Mobile and Cell C that Vodacom and MTN should abandon their case.

The smaller operators suggested that Vodacom and MTN would have to lodge fresh applications based on the amended regulations because the case they were arguing in court was based on an earlier version of the regulations, which had since been repealed in the gazetted amendment.

Yesterday, Vodacom voluntarily opted to amend its original notice of motion to reflect the amended regulations. Icasa, Cell C and Telkom Mobile indicated that they would not oppose Vodacom’s amendment and the decision was subsequently accepted by the court

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Start-ups

What can South Africa do to stimulate the inception of small businesses and support their growth? This question is frequently asked and a number of solutions are proposed – from preferential tax rates to funding that is tailored for these businesses.

But with the survival rate of small businesses, especially start-ups, not improving much despite the introduction of grants and loans with reduced interest rates, agencies like the Small Enterprise Finance Agency have admitted that the problem could be a lack of skills. Where new businesses struggle to survive because they do not have the right skills to operate profitably for long periods, it is worth taking notice of a company like 88mph, which takes start-ups under its wing every year.

Yesterday, the Cape Town-based firm, which invests in start-ups that provide unique solutions for the African market, named seven companies that it has chosen for its 2014 accelerator programme.

These technology start-ups would participate in a programme to expose them to capital investment, access to business networks, technical infrastructure, workspace and, importantly, mentoring for a year.

In exchange, 88mph, which is privately funded, holds a small equity stake in each of the companies.

The accelerator programme was launched in South Africa in 2012 and has received hundreds of applications each year from entrepreneurs. This year’s programme drew over 300 applicants. Last year the company had 10 digital start-ups.

Perhaps, if more small business funding agencies could be converted to support agencies and build this solid base, less money would be wasted on failed start-ups.

Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Asha Speckman and Londiwe Buthelezi.


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