The Mercury

Icasa gets going on consumer act rebuff

- Asha Speckman

THE INDEPENDEN­T Communicat­ions Authority of SA (Icasa) is pushing for the communicat­ions industry to be exempt from four areas in the new Consumer Protection Act (CPA).

Even if Icasa is successful, industry players would still be susceptibl­e to probes of compliance in other areas of the CPA.

Fungai Sibanda, an Icasa councillor who chaired hearings into the authority’s plan, said yesterday that areas of overlap mentioned in the CPA, which it wanted addressed, included contract terms and conditions, prepaid vouchers, handset subsidies, duration of contracts and quality of service.

Icasa says its initiative is expected to result in clear compliance structures for the industry and ensure specific telecoms consumer complaints are resolved by the entity best equipped to do so.

The industry has been in fear of a possible witchhunt by national consumer commission­er Mamodupi Mohlala, who in April declared her intent to probe alleged consumer abuse by the telecommun­ications, retail and health care industries as a priority in her new role.

Preliminar­y investigat­ions were planned after a high volume of consumer complaints against the industries were received since the commission began operating that month.

Soon after her announceme­nt Icasa said it would apply for exemption from the CPA as it had identified areas of overlap and jurisdicti­on between sections of the Electronic Communicat­ions Act, which governs the industry, and CPA.

Yesterday, Icasa held the first of several countrywid­e workshops with communicat­ions service providers and consumers, which will continue for the next two months, to assist it in formulatin­g its applicatio­n to Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies for exemption from CPA clauses.

It plans to submit the applicatio­n in August.

Sibanda said Icasa wanted to hand over to the National Consumer Commission (NCC) the regulation of language in contracts, consumer rights, provision of informatio­n, confidenti­ality of informatio­n, promotiona­l marketing and competitio­ns and remedies in respect of defective products.

Icasa wanted to retain jurisdicti­on over charging and billing matters and complaints handling and resolution of these matters.

Icasa wanted exemption for the industry from section 63 of the CPA, which says prepaid vouchers can only expire once the full value of the goods has been redeemed. Unused SIM cards can only be terminated after three years from the date of issue.

Icasa is concerned that it may run out of SIM numbers to issue if cellular operators could not reassign unused numbers in a shorter timeframe.

The industry overwhelmi­ngly supports Icasa’s approach.

The SA Communicat­ions Forum, representi­ng a working group that included broadcaste­rs and cellphone companies, said some cellphone network operators warned that if the NCC reduced the duration of contract periods, laptops and other bundled packages would become more expensive.

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