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ICASA begins tackling high data costs

ICASA aims to finalise the inquiry by 31 March 2018.

ICASA aims to finalise the inquiry by 31 March 2018.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has taken the first step towards an inquiry into the cost to communicate in SA.

This as the regulator published a notice in a Government Gazette "of its intention to conduct an inquiry to determine the priority markets in the electronic communications sector".

"This notice, published on 30 June 2017, forms part of a number of initiatives ICASA is doing to address the high cost of communication in South Africa, including the cost of data," the authority said in a media statement yesterday.

This after telecommunications and postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele last year issued a policy directive to ICASA "to prioritise the commencement and conclusion of an inquiry and the prescription of regulations to ensure effective competition in broadband markets".

ICASA says it aims to finalise the inquiry on or before 31 March 2018.

The purpose is "to identify relevant wholesale and retail markets or market segments in the telecommunications sector that are generally prone to ex ante [before the event]regulation"; and to determine from these markets and market segments those that the authority intends to prioritise for market reviews and potential regulation in terms of section 67(4) of the Electronic Communications Act, following the conclusion of this inquiry.

#DataMustFall

Last year, South Africans, especially the youth, ignited a furore on social media over their frustration over high data costs. Led by radio and media personality Thabo ‘Tbo Touch' Molefe, the social media campaign called on operators to lower the cost of cellphone data, under the banner #DataMustFall.

This resulted in Parliament's portfolio committee on telecommunications and postal services spending two days hearing submissions from the communications department, ICASA, civil society organisations, telecoms operators and the public on the cost to communicate using mobile data.

In his department's budget vote speech in May, Cwele said government agreed with a call from South Africans that data prices in the country should fall. Soon after, minister of economic development Ebrahim Patel also said he would ask the Competition Commission to launch an inquiry into the high cost of data in SA.

ICASA says it is in consultation with other regulatory bodies such as the National Consumer Commission and the Competition Commission to find ways in which data costs can be further reduced for the benefit of consumers.

The regulator outlined its plans for the inquiry in the Gazette, along with a questionnaire to be filled out by interested stakeholders to share information and their opinions. The questionnaire is published at the bottom of the gazette notice and is also available on the ICASA Web site and at the head office library in Sandton during working hours.

Phased process

ICASA will conduct the inquiry in a series of phases and says it intends to consult stakeholders at various stages.

Phase one will be a market study to obtain information and opinions from market participants and stakeholders. Written responses to the questions in the market study need to be submitted within 45 working days from 30 June.

Phase two will see the publishing of a discussion document in the Government Gazette, which will be informed by the information gathered by the market study and any other research or benchmarking exercises that may have been conducted. The discussion document will also be published for public comment for a period of 45 working days.

Phase three will consist of public hearings - if deemed necessary - on issues raised in the context of the inquiry. ICASA will notify stakeholders of the date, time and venue of the hearings ahead of time.

The final phase will be the publication of a findings document which will be gazetted within 90 days from the date of conclusion of the inquiry, and will be the final output of the inquiry. The findings document will list the markets that have been identified by the authority as being generally prone to ex ante regulation and a list of the markets that have been identified as priority markets in respect of which ICASA intends to conduct specific market reviews.


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