ICASA yet to regulate data pricing

Johannesburg - The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) says one of its key mandates is to bring down the cost of communication in SA.

The authority issued a statement on Thursday following representations made to Parliament about the high cost of communication in SA.

This issue has been on the authority’s radar for several years.

In a statement, it says although it has yet to develop a specific framework to regulate data pricing, it does aim to protect consumers by setting regulations which licensees must comply with.

One of these, it claims, is the End-User and Subscriber Service Charter Regulation, which was amended in April to include more protection for consumers.

However, the authority’s reporting on service levels has in the past been patchy at best, with several reporting periods being missed.

It says the End-User and Subscriber Service Charter Regulations impose extensive transparency obligations on licensees to ensure that consumers are well informed around to the rules applicable to their service consumption.

“In terms of these regulations, network providers must now, at the point of sale or prior to contracting, inform their customers about, among other things, in and out-of-bundle rates and the rules for the carry-over of unused voice minutes and data.”

It adds the regulation provides for a complaints-handling procedure that must be adhered to by all network providers.

“One of the stipulations of this complaints-handling procedure is that network providers are prohibited from disconnecting the services of consumers while a disputed bill (data or voice) is being investigated, provided that the consumer continues paying the subscription amount.”

ICASA notes over-the-top services, such as Facebook and WhatsApp, have driven a demand for data. It notes consumers have also increased their level of communication and thus their demand for data due to, among others, the use of video and photo sharing, downloading of applications, among other aspects.

“To this end, the concerns around the cost of data have inevitably surpassed concerns over the cost of voice. The cost of voice services has reduced significantly as a result of the authority’s intervention in the wholesale voice call termination markets. Though there has not been any specific regulatory intervention in the data market as yet, the authority notes that there has been a downward trend in data tariffs lodged and charged by operators to consumers.”

ICASA adds the average price for data is 45 percent cheaper than in 2010.

“This however, is not to say that the concerns raised by civil society groups and consumers around the high costs are unfounded. The trends further indicate that consumers buying large volumes of data benefit significantly from low in-bundle rates/MB, whereas out-of-bundle rates are still substantially higher.”

ICASA adds that any regulatory intervention it does must follow legally prescribed rules.

It is also consulting with the National Consumer Commission around ways to deal with data expiration.