The Competition Commission’s probe into South Africa’s high data prices is likely to directly name and shame companies with unfair data practices – including fixed-line providers.
This is according to Norton Rose Fulbright’s Jason van Dijk and Avayaik Gray, who believe that, despite the probe’s socio-economic importance, it will primarily focus on whether these big operators are fair and in-line with the country’s competition laws.
“The South African wireless data market is dominated by a small number of large companies, and the Commission appears to be of the view that this, along with the stagnation of policy implementation and lack of significant improvements in infrastructure, has hamstrung competitiveness in the local market,” said Norton Rose Fulbright.
“Fixed-line data providers aren’t out of the firing line either, as the Commission hasn’t limited their inquiry to the mobile sector.”
“The same report called for better co-ordination between the telecoms giants and the competition and consumer regulators, and noted that the limited range of radio frequencies in SA prevents small service providers from entering the market.”
“This is likely to be a feature of the market that is likely to fall under significant scrutiny in the course of the Commission inquiry.”
Through the inquiry, the Commission aims to assess the data service value chain, as well as the state of competition in the market at each level of supply, in order to identify areas where consumers may be exploited or excluded by firms.
Importantly, the inquiry will establish whether the local quality and coverage is adequate in light of international standards and the country’s developmental needs.
Although the inquiry will focus on the data industry as a whole, and empowers the Commission to make non-binding recommendations to address its findings, the Commission is also empowered to initiate investigations into any alleged anti-competitive conduct by specific market players, should the inquiry uncover such behaviour.
However, the lawyers have warned that consumers shouldn’t get too excited just yet, as it could be several years before the probe’s results are published and any action is taken.
“Whilst the data services market inquiry is supposed to be completed by the end of 31 August 2018, the Commission has in the past extended its anticipated inquiry periods.”
“For instance, the health market inquiry was initiated in 2013, with an expected duration of 2 years, but is currently only set to wrap up towards the end of 2017.”