Vodacom withdraws ICASA interdict in South Africa


Vodacom confirms it has withdrawn legal papers served on the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA), but will not state why. The mobile communications giant brought an urgent interdict against the authority on Monday, to prevent it from implementing regulations that would stop mobile operators from locking consumers into long-term contracts. The regulations were expected to take effect on 17 August.

According to ICASA spokesman Sekgoela Sekgoela, the authority has not received notice that the action has been withdrawn and is treating the matter as an ongoing case. “We do not want to pre-empt the court, and since the matter is sub judice, we cannot really comment on what will happen for now.” The legal notice has been taken under consideration by the authority's legal department.

ICASA's new regulations are good news for consumers, as they are being given the option to choose the length of their cellphone contracts. The authority wants providers to offer contracts from six, 12, 18, or 24 months, and consumers can pick which suits them best.

ICASA's gazetted regulations also stipulated: “Post- and pre-paid offerings or packages that include handset subsidies must clearly indicate the subsidy and the monetary value of the services offered.”

Providers would have been expected to show clearly how much of the subsidy remains on any given contract, as well as the cost consumers will need to pay if they decide to opt out of an existing contract. Both stipulations must be shown on the bill at the end of every month.

However, Vodacom previously said certain aspects of the regulations are unclear and confusing. It has also said it was not consulted on the new regulations. The company had planned to take up the matter with ICASA for clarification.

While reports state Vodacom has withdrawn the interdict because ICASA agreed to hold back on the regulations, the authority has no knowledge of the withdrawal, or the agreement. At this stage, ICASA says the regulations will not come into effect until after the court case, while Vodacom is adamant its withdrawal of the legal action means there would be no court case.

Vodacom says it cannot comment, because matters discussed between the legal teams of the parties involved are confidential. It says releasing information to the media could put ICASA and Vodacom in a difficult position. ICASA has also confirmed that none of the other service providers were involved in the legal action.