Icasa to investigate competition in ICT industry

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Johannesburg - Telkom, Vodacom, MultiChoice and their competitors in the broadcasting and telecommunications sectors will be the subjects of an inquiry into the state of competition in the information and communication technology (ICT) industry over the next six to eight months.

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), which is driving the probe, said yesterday that it would also focus on the challenges to creating a level playing field across platforms.

Icasa’s inquiry comes amid structural changes, including conflict among cellular network operators over call termination rates and the long-term impact that lower rates that favour smaller operators will have on larger wireless telecoms providers.

The scope of Icasa’s inquiry will also address the impact of convergence of technologies, net neutrality and disruptive technologies such as Netflix, a provider of on-demand internet streaming of movies and television shows, and messaging service Whatsapp on the competitive landscape.

It will also look into the role of fixed (fibre) and wireless (high demand spectrum) providers in enabling competition and the “tension between consolidation and plurality in the ICT sector”. Net neutrality is a global principle that internet service providers and the state should treat data on the internet equally and there should be different charges based on factors such as user, content site or application.

The industry has supported the inquiry, adding that there were many competition issues to be addressed at infrastructure and services level.

Loren Braithwaite Kabosha, the chief executive of the SA Communications Forum, which represents broadcasters and telecoms players, said: “Our members have felt that Icasa has needed to do this kind of inquiry for many years to fulfil its mandate.”

Kabosha said the Electronic Communications Act, which governs the industry, had provided for Icasa to determine the level of competition.

Without the analysis Icasa was hamstrung from effecting pro-competitive measures for greater efficiency, lower cost structures and choice.

Dominic Cull, the regulatory adviser at the Internet Service Providers Association, said the assessment had to be forward looking.

Cull said as an example, the focus on voice call termination rates would not be relevant in five years time as mobile data was taking prominence. The authority should also interrogate competition aspects that would arise from the new National Broadband Policy focus on an open access national broadband network and high demand spectrum.

Avhasei Mukhoma, a telecoms attorney, said Icasa had to define the relevant market. “It can’t be a blanket inquiry because they’ll end up not finding anything or it will be skewed towards [arguments about the] mobile players,” he said.

Mukhoma said a study would be effective if Icasa conducted an economic rather than a legal analysis and it should also consider the impact of electronic licence holders such as banks like FNB, whose primary role was not to provide technology.

William Currie, an Icasa councillor, said: “The authority has powers under the Icasa Act to conduct an inquiry into a range of different issues, and in this case we are conducting [an inquiry] under section 4b 1a which enables us to look into the objects of the law.” – Additional reporting by Sapa


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