September 11, 2018 / 2:05 PM / 13 days ago

UPDATE 1-South Africa's telecoms watchdog mulls regulating internet data prices

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DURBAN, South Africa, Sept 11 (Reuters) - South Africa is considering regulating the price of internet data, the chief executive of the telecoms watchdog said on Tuesday, as part of efforts to bring costs down and shore up the ailing economy.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa's (ICASA) Chief Executive Willington Ngwepe's comments come after complaints from consumers about the cost of data in Africa's most advanced economy.

Ngwepe said ICSA will later this month launch a market inquiry, which is likely to be take between eight and 18 months. The inquiry is expected to help the regulator work out how and which features in the industry need to be regulated.

"What we're going to be doing specifically is to look at regulating the price of data," Ngwepe told Reuters on the sidelines of a telecoms conference in Durban. "But that's going to a process that will not happen overnight."

A 2016 World Bank report found that South Africans paid around $14.10 for one gigabyte of data, the fourth highest out of 17 African countries.

Five main companies dominate South Africa’s wireless broadband market, including MTN and Vodacom, which control about 70 percent of the market. Fixed-line operator Telkom also operates data services.

Analysts say the small pool of service providers has hampered competition.

Ngwepe also said he expected the licensing of new radio spectrum by at least April next year.

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa told the telecoms conference on Monday that his government will accelerate the licensing of delayed radio frequency spectrum to mobile operators. (Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng Editing by James Macharia)

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