ICASA comes under attack at MVNOs Summit

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) was singled out for criticism by delegates at the MVNOs Industry Summit last week in Cape Town for failing to fulfill its mandate.

The industry regulator has been the target of criticism from broadcasters in recent months, for shutting out the chance of new entrants in the sector.

Now it has come under pressure from the mobile sector for similar reasons, for failing to properly regulate on questions such as origination rates that have decreased the chances of new players challenging the dominant pair of MTN and Vodacom.

Bill Hearmon, chairman of the 4G African Broadband Forum, said costs are too high for users, with Jonathan Marchbank, CEO of Virgin Mobile South Africa, agreeing that “the tariff is ridiculously high, at least for voice.”

Hearmon also criticised the big telecoms for deliberately making it difficult for customers to keep their existing phone number should they choose to change operator, and asked ICASA to act.

AppChat CEO John Holdsworth said that ICASA was running scared of the financial muscle of MTN and Vodacom, and that the resultant lack of action was having consequences for the telecoms sector.

“The incumbents [MTN and Vodacom] have better lawyers than ICASA, so when they take ICASA to court they back off,” he said. “I think people trust estate agents more than trust mobile networks right now.”

Various delegates also criticised ICASA for failing to tackle the problem of origination rates, which are currently left up to the incumbents and remain high.

But Christina Mhlanga, Senior Manager for Markets and Competition Analysis at ICASA, would not be drawn on the issue, claiming it was still a “topic under discussion”. When asked why origination rates were left to the incumbents, he said: “I’m sorry; I cannot provide the reasons why.”

Mhlanga also defended the right of the operators to legally challenge decisions, but said the regulator was committed to its task.

“Operators will try and bring in legal challenges wherever possible, especially when their livelihood is threatened,” he said.

“Our primary role is to ensure access to telecoms in all of South Africa. We issue regulation as and when we need to.”

Mhlanga said the regulator would look into claims as to the difficulties of transferring numbers and take action if needed.

He added that ICASA was in the final stretch of a public consultation on last mile access, and that it was awaiting policy direction from ministers on 4G spectrum. A study on competition in the sector is currently underway, as ICASA looks to the future in its new five year plan.

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