Contrary to reports, Icasa supports consumer legislation
THE INDEPENDENT Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) would like to clarify and put into perspective the deliberate misunderstanding and mischief that Thabo Masombuka displayed in the article titled “Casual Icasa just disappoints in its bid to exempt ICT (information and communication technology)”, published in Business Report of June 2, 2011.
It is evident that the writer is ignorant and ill-informed of the issues in relation to the agenda he is trying to set. Icasa issued a statement in April stating that it would work in close collaboration with the National Consumer Commission (NCC) on matters of common interest and at the same time welcoming the implementation of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA); not opposing it as purported by the writer.
Icasa’s position is and will remain that the CPA is a piece of legislation that applies across all industries and sectors of the economy with no exception. It affords all consumers the much-needed protection and promotion of their rights while complementing other laws already in existence. Consequently, where regulators exist, dealing with a wide range of issues, including consumer protection, the CPA does not wish away these institutions.
Rather, it envisages and promotes cooperative, collaborative and co-ordinated exercise of jurisdiction between the NCC and sector regulators, of which Icasa is but one. Icasa has begun negotiations with the NCC to enter into a memorandum of agreement as envisaged by section 97 (2) of the CPA so as to harmonise the exercise of jurisdiction in the ICT sector.
Icasa is unwavering in its support of the CPA and views it as a long-overdue piece of legislation that will certainly revolutionise the consumer protection landscape and hopefully cultivate a culture of consumer activism across all sectors.
In recognising the potential for overlap and duplication of functions with the NCC, however, the legislature provided for a process of exemption. Icasa held a fruitful workshop on June 2, and has scheduled further workshops with consumer groups and provincial consumer protection authorities around the country in order to solicit their views on the exemption application.
The CPA has 122 sections and two schedules. In terms of the notice issued, Icasa is proposing to apply for exemption from only three sections of the CPA where there is potential for overlap or duplication. The article, however, mischievously creates an impression that Icasa is seeking total exemption from the CPA. This is most unfortunate. The agenda to vilify Icasa is also expressed through the deafening silence on other regulators that have applied for exemption or are planning to do so.
In the past financial year, Icasa received 3 298 complaints and managed to close 2 303 of these. The bulk (33 percent) of these complaints relate to billing, followed by quality of service matters (27 percent), contract terms and conditions (21 percent) and the rest are miscellaneous including fraud, cable theft, blacklisting etc; matters that are clearly not within Icasa’s mandate.
Icasa dealt with these complaints due to the absence of over-arching consumer legislation. Now that such a law is in place, the majority of complaints can be routed appropriately, including faulty handsets, contract terms and conditions, marketing, and language used in contracts.
Icasa has a continued role to play in promoting and monitoring quality of service in the ICT sector due to the type of skills and expertise as well as equipment required for such a function. It is important to note that it is only the minister of trade and industry who has been vested with decision-making powers with respect to granting or refusing an exemption application.
With regards to the escalating costs of communication, Icasa continues to intervene in that space. Once again, the writer is obviously unaware of or deliberately avoids these developments in the ICT sector and of the wholesale call termination regulations that are expected to drive competition in the voice telephony market. It is expected that these regulations will lead to a reduction in retail prices over time as natural price competition takes place. Icasa continues to monitor the implemented remedies meant to address existing market failures.
It is unfortunate that, without any evidence and despite explanations given and press statements made, media articles have sought to portray Icasa as opposed to the CPA and on a warpath with the NCC. Nothing could be further from the truth.