I have just come back from a workshop at ICASA on the draft Consumer Advisory Panel (CAP) regulations. MyBroadband was invited by ICASA to participate in this, and rpm asked if I would represent our view at ICASA today.
As per my understanding, CAP is primarily envisiaged as a group of people who will serve as advisors to Council on draft regulations, licence conditions as well as any broad telecoms-broadcasting-postal consumer issues. The CAP is not going to be a body who consumers can complain about their specific issue to- that's the CCC (the Complaints and Compliance Committee).
Unfortunately (or luckily) the Electronic Communications Act (ECA) is very vague and non-prescriptive of what exactly the Consumer Advisory Panel is supposed to do. The legislation as per ECA only says that a consumer panel must be set up, and that ICASA must make some umbrella regulations giving the CAP a mandate. It is these such draft regulations which were under discussion today. (The Consumer Advisory Panel is impacted by other legislation, but I will not go into detail about that here).
Telkom didn't submit comments on the draft regulations so they were not there today, and I think we were all rather happy about that . On the other hand, it could be interpreted as Telkom giving the ECA and consumers the middle finger. Apart from me, the other 15 or so participants were from MTN, Vodacom, Cell C and ICASA.
I have to interpret what was said today in the context of the formal written comments submitted by the operators, which I have only seen summaries of as yet. But for now to those who know a little about the CAP draft regulations or have read them- it seems ICASA remains somewhat unfocussed about who and how people are going to be appointed to the Panel, and how provincial/disabled/special interest interests will be ensured representation. In this instance, they are treating their own draft regulations as 'draft' draft regulations. At the start, it was proposed by ICASA that one person per province be picked. I was fiercely against this- although it sounds like a nice idea, it's entirely unworkable. Basically there is a lot of confusion on who is going to constitute the panel- (eg. one operator said it didn't matter to them whether they had a rep appointed to the panel; another fiercely mantained that this was their strongest concern). Save to say that ICASA is shopping for a fair way to codify requirement's about selection to the panel. If you can think of a fair way to do this (within the context of the national needs of SA), please PM me or post about it, because if we don't come up with a very fair sounding system then they are going to put in their own --> and on this topic, I don't think it is wise to submit that we alienate operators from representation on the panel. This route has rarely worked. If the CAP is going to make any difference to the plight of consumers, there needs to be participation from operators. I argued that the panel should allow for operator representation, but be weighted in favour of representatives who, as a group, represent neither a commercial nor a governmental interest group.
Definition of "consumers": I am worried about this the more I think about it. Save to say I learnt a lesson about law through the ADSL Regulations backstabbing- definitions are extremely important!! ICASA is in the market for a good definition of what is to be meant by 'consumer'. So please, suggestions on this.
I suggested an additional section in the regulations dealing with Transparency and Accountability. I argued a very solid case for it and made some good suggestions about the hows, wheres and whys, Eg. I proposed that the Right to officially and publicly dissent with Council be codified. With regard to tansparancy, one such example I suggested was a webpage with the CAP's official written opinion or submission on any issue which they made be called or required to give opinion on, and not limited thereto. In this way consumers with access to the internet can see whether their interests are being appropriately represented or not. I also gave an appropriate schpell about access to and right to comment to the media- the usual arguments.
The draft regulations propose that the CAP be headed by a chairperson, who will be appointed by the Chairperson of Council (Paris Mashile). I proposed that a line of authority that can be traced directly back to the minister is unacceptable It was agreed that the chairperson of the CAP should be nominated from within the members of the Panel, and a Councillor noted that the Chairperson of ICASA should have no role in appointing any member of the Panel to the position of chair or deputy chair within the CAP.
On the whole I felt good about my participation on MyADSL's behalf. I was my usual motor-mouth- I spoke a lot, dare say I dominated the airtime, but it was all necessary. It was very important that we participate in this as consumers, and I am upbeat about where the Consumer Advisory Panel can potentially can be taken.