The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has announced that it will conduct “an inquiry to determine the priority markets in the electronic communications sector.” This announcement follows a number of protests over the past few months by consumers calling for data prices to reduce. One of the most notable and prominent campaigns was the #DataMustFall movement on social media.

According to ICASA, the notice published on 30 June 2017 “forms part of a number of initiatives ICASA is doing to address the high cost of communication in South Africa including the cost of data.”

The notice in the Government Gazette highlighted the four phases of the inquiry. The public will be able to submit comments at each stage of the inquiry, with ICASA aiming to complete the inquiry on or before 31 March 2018.

Phase 1: Market study

This phase of the inquiry will focus on obtaining information and options from market participants and stakeholders. This part of the inquiry will “be undertaken through a series of questions to market participants aimed at identifying broad market markets and market segments,” explained ICASA.

“The Authority may request one-on-one meetings in relation to information submitted by a stakeholder in response to the Market Study where necessary to clarify any information that is submitted,” added the Communications Authority.

Phase 2: Publication of discussion document

ICASA revealed: “The Authority will publish a Discussion Document, in the Government Gazette, which will be informed by the information submitted by stakeholders in the context of the Market Study and any other research or benchmarking exercises that may have been conducted.

“The Discussion Document will be published for public comment for a period of 45 working days.”

Phase 3: Public hearings

If ICASA finds it necessary, public hearings may be carried out relating to issues raised during the inquiry. The time and date of these hearings will be made known when/if it is decided that public hearings are required.

Phase 4: Publication of findings document

Within 90 days of ICASA completing its inquiry, the findings document will be published. This will “list the markets that have been identified by the Authority as being generally prone to ex ante (meaning before the event) regulation and a list of the markets that have been identified as priority markets in respect of which the Authority intends to conduct specific market reviews.”

The industry responds

Byron Kennedy, Vodacom spokesperson, told Justmoney: “We are co-operating fully with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) on its inquiry on the cost of communications in SA, including the cost of data and we have already submitted our response to ICASA in this regard. Notwithstanding the inquiry by ICASA, we are constantly reviewing and improving our voice and data offers to make them more affordable to our more than 37 million customers.

“For instance, in the past year alone, voice and data prices fell by 14.3% and 16% respectively in South Africa where significantly more customers benefitted from using bundles. This brings the cumulative reduction in voice and data prices to 42.2% and 44.3% over the past three years,” added Kennedy.

You can view ICASA’s full notice here, including the questionnaire for industry participants and stakeholders.

Cell C had not responded to requests for comment and MTN had not submitted commentary at the time of publication.