The Mercury

Contrary to reports, Icasa supports consumer legislatio­n

- Fungai Sibanda

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.

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