ICASA: Striking the communication balance between consumers and retailers

It is a modern day reality that for a society and economy to be truly vibrant and cutting edge, its people must have the technology tools and knowledge to apply to situations.
Whilst South Africa remains one of the largest and most developed economies on the African Continent, there remains a clear disparity when it comes to IT availability and skills.
The formation of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) as the regulator for the South African communications, broadcasting and postal services sector, created a body aiming to address some of the challenges facing the country.

ICASA’s mission is quite clearly defined on its website: “The Authority aims to ensure that all South Africans have access to a wide range of high quality communication services at affordable prices;” its goal: “To advance the building of a digital society.”

The Authority is responsible for regulating the telecommunications, broadcasting and postal industries in the public interest and ensure affordable services of a high quality for all South Africans. The Authority also issues licenses to telecommunications and broadcasting service providers’, enforces compliance with rules and regulations, protects consumers from unfair business practices and poor quality services, hears and decides on disputes and complaints brought against licensees and controls and manages the effective use of radio frequency spectrum.

shutterstock_118462969Within its framework, ICASA has put in place several strategic objectives which are linked to the Government’s Outcomes based Approach. These are described on the organisation’s website as follows:
“To promote competition: The Authority will promote competition by enabling new entrants to participate in the ICT sector and level the playing field. Furthermore, it will facilitate effective HDI/BEE participation in the sector;
“To promote the digital agenda: The Authority will develop a roadmap for spectrum licensing to support the national digital agenda and maximise universal coverage broadband services;
“To promote efficient use of spectrum and numbering resources: Efficient and effective use of frequency and numbering resource to promote the growth and rapid deployment of innovative and efficient communications technologies and services;
“To protect consumers: Ensure the continued protection of consumers through empowerment and knowledge of their rights pertaining to ICT services as well as accessibility and the needs of persons with disabilities; and;
“To modernise ICASA: The Authority will be an efficient and highly productive regulator that maximises benefit to stakeholders, staff and management from effective systems, processes, resources and organisational cultures.”

Of course the arrival of the cell phone and Smartphone technology in South Africa has changed the way we do things. At the same time it has opened up a raft of new consumer protection issues.

“In enforcing the consumer protection, ICASA has developed a number of regulations which focus on conduct by licensees that affects large number of consumers. The following regulations were developed:-
“Regulations on the Code of Conduct by licenses – these set acceptable standards of conduct by licensees in respect of consumers and to protect the rights of consumers in the sector.
“Code on People with Disabilities – the regulations set standards with regard to the provision of services and products by all licensees, who are licensed in terms of the Electronic Communications Act.
“Mobile Number Portability Regulations – the regulations allow consumers to switch from one service provider to the other without changing one’s number.
“Handset subsidy Regulations – these are regulations developed by ICASA to protect consumers from being locked into long-term post-paid contracts with mobile operators,” states the website.

Aside from helping to safeguard consumers, ICASA is helping the nation to make sense of broadcast and communication issues and in June of last year announced a Broadband Value Chain Request for Information as part of its Broadband Value Chain Analysis.

In a statement it said: “The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa hereby informs all stakeholders and the media that it has released a Broadband Value Chain Request for Information. This is a key deliverable of the broadband value chain study. The Authority commissioned a study of the Electronic Communications Network and Services Value Chain of the South African Electronic Communications Industry and this forms a key component of the Authority’s Cost to Communicate Programme contained in Government Gazette 36532 of 4 June 2013.

“The purpose of the study is to define the broadband value chain, identify where, along the value chain, there is ineffective competition, to propose potential remedies to address this ineffective competition, thereby providing the Authority with the necessary information to draft regulations in terms of section 67(4) of the Electronic Communications Act (EC Act).”
At the time of writing, South Africa’s communications sector is poised for an announcement from ICASA on new regulations governing call termination rates.
Business Day reported that “What the communications regulator decides will have a big impact not only on the financial health of the country’s mobile operators, but on jobs in the sector, future investments in network infrastructure and retail prices.
“The authority has until the end of September to publish new call termination rate regulations, which will determine how much fixed and mobile telecoms operators may charge each other to carry calls between their networks.”

ICASA’s impact cannot be underestimated as it looks to ensure a level playing field for the consumer and the supplier in the complex world of communications.