by Gugu Lourie

ICASA, South Africa’s telephone regulator, is kick-starting a process to review the fees charged by Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom to handle calls from other providers, a move that could hit revenues for phone firms and pave way for cheaper calls.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) said in a statement on Monday that the review is in line with the Electronic Communications Act that governs the sector.

The Mobile Call Termination (MTR) regulations were contentious and challenged in court by mobile phone operators.

ICASA said on Monday that it is inviting interested stakeholders to participate in a process to review pro-competitive conditions imposed on licensees in respect of the call termination regulations of 2014.

“All licensees must complete and submit the questionnaire to the authority on or before 28 February 2017,” said ICASA in a statement.

“To this end, ICASA is requesting licensees to submit all relevant information as determined by the Authority for this purpose in terms of section 4(3)(g) of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa Act No. 13 of 2000 read with regulation 9 of the Regulations on Standard Terms and Conditions for Individual Licensees, Government Gazette No. 39875, as amended.”

In 2014, mobile phone operators warned that a dramatic reduction of cell phone charges would disrupt the country’s economy and communications sector.

If ICASA decided to reduce the MTR to lower cellular phone prices to the benefit of subscribers.

In the final regulation published in 2014, ICASA said that the incumbent mobile cellular operators were expected to reduce their MTR from 40c to 20c as of 1 March 2014. It added that the MTR’s for small mobile operators like Cell C and Telkom Mobile will remain at 44c. The fixed termination rate for Telkom remains at 12c in respect of local interconnection for the coming year, while the rate for the national interconnections will fall from 19c to 16c.

By March this year, the call termination rates for the major operators is expected to be unified at 10c, with continued, albeit falling, asymmetry for small mobile and fixed operators.

ICASA may be targeting South Africa’s biggest mobile operators – Vodacom and MTN – to start charging each other to carry calls between their networks less than the 10c/minute from 2018.

The move to review mobile and fixed termination rates may be aimed at further reducing the high cost to communicate in South Africa.

The agreed call termination rates in 2014 and declining cost to communicate has failed to complement the goals of “SA Connect”, the country’s broadband policy, of bridging the digital divide by making broadband accessible and affordable.

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