It seems the jury is out on former Vodacom chief executive Alan Knott-Craig, who has been rather vocal of late, making public his views on the interconnect debacle, why broadband costs so much and even how to fix the regulator.
His views, mostly published on the technology news website Tech Central, have caused dissatisfaction among industry players and analysts, with most accusing him of hypocrisy for masquerading as a consumer champion with all the answers to the sector’s woes.
After a recent column titled “What must be done to fix Icasa”, the Shuttleworth Foundation’s Telecommunications Fellow, Steve Song, posted a comment in response, stating: “Sorry, but this is like having the man who stole your horses come back with advice on how to build a better barn door.”
Song added: “From my perspective Alan Knott-Craig has forfeited his right to offer this sort of advice.
“Icasa may be awful, but companies like Vodacom have conspired to make it worse by bombarding it with litigious delays, obfuscations and other legal interventions all aimed at resisting change and, especially, resisting new competition.”
Song is not alone in his criticism. Numerous industry insiders, analysts and sources close to the regulator, to whom the Mail & Guardian spoke this week, expressed dismay at Knott-Craig’s recent opinions.
Knott-Craig dismissed these criticisms, put to him by the M&G this week, claiming that either his critics were “mischievous” or they didn’t “properly understand telecommunications”.
One analyst, who refused to be named, accused Knott-Craig of hypocrisy and raised the issue of the substantial salary and bonuses he would have received while serving as Vodacom chief executive.
However, it is impossible to quantify Knott-Craig’s total earnings as Vodacom chief executive because, until this year, Vodacom was not a listed company and had no statutory obligations to disclose this information.
When the M&G put in a request for this information this week, Vodacom spokesperson Nicolene Visser said that it was “confidential between the company and its employees”.
One telecoms insider asked why Knott-Craig had not raised the interconnect issue when he was still the head of Vodacom.
“It’s like he has eaten his dinner and then he is only complaining afterwards that the food was bad,” he said.
A source close to Icasa said that Vodacom’s standard response to regulation has been to find every way to “challenge the regulations, stall the regulations or embarrass the regulator”.
“This is just the stance they have always had,” said the source.
“This is the way they do business, the Alan Knott-Craig way.”
A telecoms analyst, who did not want to be named, said Knott-Craig’s about-face was like “the poacher becoming the game keeper”.
“Its not unheard of and I think we did hear that he [had] offered his services to lead Icasa, but very little came of this, so perhaps he is now trying to position himself as the champion of the consumer,” said the analyst.
“Is he being sincere? Probably, yes, but it could be like seeking forgiveness. However, as clear as daylight was the fact that during his tenure at Vodacom he was instrumental in driving the market to its zenith with the knock-on of the higher profits.”
Another telecoms sector player said Knott-Craig’s recent opinions did not sit well with him.
“I had someone at Icasa trying to tell me that Knott-Craig would make an excellent chief executive or councillor,” he said.
“‘Over my dead body,’ was — my reply.”
Song compares South Africa’s mobile operators to blue gum trees.
“On the surface they look great, they are useful for timber and firewood and they grow faster than any indigenous tree,” he said.
“Viewed from a short-term perspective there is no down side. But when viewed closer, they are poisoning the ground around them, draining the water table and generally creating an unsustainable ecosystem.
“Sounds just like mobile operators who kill off nascent competition, suck resources from the poor and generally create an unsustainable economic ecosystem for telecommunications.”