Kenya, mobile, mobile payments, Telecoms, Uncategorized

Airtel Kenya requests probe of Safaricom for abuse of dominance in mobile money transfer market

kenya

Mobile payment wars heating up in Kenya

Airtel Networks Kenya Limited (“Airtel”) has joined forces with Kenya-based Equity Bank to launch a similar mobile banking product, M-KESHO in July 2014 to the established product provided by Safaricom Limited (“Safaricom”).

Safaricom offers a product named “M-Pesa” to its customers in Kenya and Tanzania.  M-Pesa is a mobile-phone based money transfer and micro-financing service, launched in 2007 for Safaricom and Vodacom, the two largest mobile network operators in Kenya and Tanzania. The service enables its users to deposit and withdraw money, transfer money to other users and non-users, pay bills, purchase airtime and transfer money between the service and, in Kenya, a bank account.  Users of M-Pesa are charged a service fee for sending and withdrawing money.

By 2010, M-Pesa became the most successful mobile-phone-based financial service in the developing world.

In light of the imminent launch of the Airtel product, Airtel has lodged a complaint with the Competition Authority of Kenya on the basis that Safaricom currently holds 78% of the voice market in Kenya, 96% of the short message service market and 74% of the mobile data market.  In addition, Airtel is of the view that these market shares make it impossible for Kenyan consumers to have a choice in operators. By 2012, 17 million M-Pesa accounts were registered in Kenya alone, which has a population of over 40 million.

There are a total of approximately 31 million mobile-phone subscriptions in Kenya in 2013, of which Safaricom accounted for 68%, Airtel 17%, Essar Group’s “yuMobile” 9% and Telkom Kenya Limited 7%.

However, Safaricom has indicated that cash transfers still account for 98% of the total transactions in Kenya and therefore it is impossible for any mobile-money entity to be a dominant player in the payments market.

The Competition Authority of Kenya has identified telecommunications as one of several markets being scrutinised by the Competition Authority for possible abuses of dominance.  This probe is expected to reach completion by July 2014.

In terms of Kenyan law, if a company controls at least half of the provision of trade of services or goods, the company will be considered to be dominant.  In Kenya, a conviction of abuse of dominance can lead to a five-year prison term and a USD 115 000 penalty

Kenya is quite clearly pushing on in relation to significant cases in sectors which affect the majority of the population, as discussed in the overview of maturing African competition regimes published last week.  However, it is noteworthy that in April 2014, Kenya’s telecommunications regulator granted approval for Safaricom and Airtel to buy Essar Group’s “yuMobile” and it is considering awarding licenses for at least three more telecommunications companies.  Orange SA has indicated that its operations may exit the Kenyan market, where it owns 70 percent of Telkom Kenya (which in turn accounts for 7% of the mobile phone subscriptions in Kenya).

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BRICS, mergers, mobile, public-interest, Telecoms

Battle of the Agencies: ICASA vs. CompCom

In dispute over competition-law & merger enforcement in South Africa, Communications agency raises its voice

Jurisdictionally crossed wires and agency disputes in antitrust are no longer the exclusive playground of the FCC and DOJ, of COMESA’s CCC and the Kenyan CAK, or DOJ and FTC.  They have now reached the shores of the Republic of South Africa as well, in the form of the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (“ICASA”) challenging the country’s Competition Commission’s de facto exclusive right to review merger deals.

Factual Background

ICASA, created in July 2000 by the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa Amendment Act is reported to be in a jurisdictional dispute with the country’s traditional merger watchdog, the South African Competition Commission (“SACC”).  ICASA wants the power to take a closer look at relevant deals such as MTN and Telkom’s network sharing and the announced Vodacom / Neotel deal, on which AAT has reported previously (see Telecom adversaries to remain “principled” in their competing bids for 4G spectrum, Internet & mobile operators at war: merge, acquire, complain, and our prior reports mentioning ICASA here).

ICASA’s specialized “Markets & Competition” division is tasked to deal with promoting “competition, innovation and investment in respect of services and facilities provided in the electronic communications, broadcasting and postal sectors, whilst ensuring account cultural diversity, especially regarding broadcasting content.”  The authority as a whole is “mandated to create competition in the telecommunications, broadcasting and the postal industries. In turn, competition brings about affordable prices for goods and services rendered and provides value for money to consumers.”

Legal Standard – “Public Interest”?

In recent reports by the New Telegraph and HumanIPO, ICASA is said to have voiced discontent with the Competition Commission’s failure to send proposed communications-related M&A deals to the authority.

That said, it is unclear to AAT precisely which legal standard ICASA wishes to impose on any potential future merger review it might undertake.  In the U.S., notably, the FCC’s standard of review is a more flexible public-interest standard, vs. the “classic” antitrust agencies’ (FTC/DOJ) “substantial lessening of competition” standard.

Regardless of (at least our) uncertainty of the legal standard to be applied, ICASA is quoted as saying that deals cleared by the SACC may still require separate approval from the Communications authority, irrespective of any competition-law based decision reached by the Competition Commission:

“While consolidation is a global phenomenon and anticipated in the market, all such deals may require regulatory approval.”

“The authority is aware of what is currently before the Competition Commission; and in accordance with our institutional arrangements with the Competition Commission we will collaborate, however, that in no way negates the regulatory approvals required from ICASA.”

In addition to the previous lack of coordination between the Commission and ICASA on merger reviews, there has also been criticism of the country’s limited allocation of more frequency spectrum to wireless operators.

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Botswana, collusion, Kenya, South Africa, Telecoms, TV-Broadcasting-Cable

Television antitrust saga continues, MultiChoice in the cross-hairs again

Interest group seeks antitrust investigation in free-to-air channels

According to a press release by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), the organisation proposed last Friday a Competition Commission investigation into purportedly horizontal agreements between the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and MultiChoice.  “This follows an agreement entered into between the two parties in July 2013 whereby the SABC would have to provide a 24-hour news channel on MultiChoice’s DSTV platform,” spokesman Paseka Maleka said.

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MultiChoice in the Cross-Hairs

AAT had reported previously on MultiChoice’s competition woes, including its Botswana Pay-TV and Kenya sports broadcasting headaches, as well as the original post on the S.A. sports-TV rights complaint by rival On Digital Media (“ODM”), which resulted in a referral to ICASA.

The South African publication The Citizen also reported the most recent ICASA attack, noting the alleged “restrictive horizontal practices involved collusion and certain competitor agreements and practices, while restrictive vertical practices involved certain customer or supplier arrangements.”

The full text of the ICASA statement follows:

Johannesburg – The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa has recently requested the Competition Commission to investigate a possible restrictive horizontal practice between the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and MultiChoice. This follows an agreement entered into between the two parties in July 2013 whereby the SABC would have to provide a 24-hour news channel on MultiChoice’ DSTV platform.

News reports at the time indicated that the agreement also contained an obligation relating to set-top-box control in which the SABC is alleged to have agreed that it will transmit its free-to-air channels without encryption.

In the context of the ongoing public dispute between e.tv and MultiChoice over whether free-to-air TV services should utilise set-top-box control, the question arises as to whether the agreement between the SABC and MultiChoice, as it affects the issue of set-top-box control, may constitute a form of restrictive horizontal practice in the television market.

ICASA has requested both the SABC and MultiChoice to provide a copy of the agreement but both parties have failed to honour that request. This failure has made it difficult for the Authority to verify the claim put forward by MultiChoice that `any contractual obligation upon the SABC to continue to transmit its free-to-air channels in the clear (i.e. without encryption) is an incident of the distribution arrangements agreed upon by the SABC and MultiChoice. Such obligation, as indicated forms part of an agreement between parties in a vertical relationship and is not, as alleged, a horizontal restrictive practice’.

As the issue of restrictive horizontal practices falls within the scope of Section 4 of the Competition Act, the Authority has requested that the Competition Commission open an investigation into this matter.

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mergers, mobile, South Africa, Telecoms

Telecom adversaries to remain “principled” in their competing bids for 4G spectrum

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The telecoms are at it again, and MTN and Vodacom find themselves close together once more.  Last October, we reported on their being jointly targeted by competitor Cell C for predatory “on-net” pricing.  Today, the two top market players are both eyeing additional spectrum for high-speed LTE/4G wireless service — an asset that can potentially be obtained much more swiftly by acquiring an existing firm owning such spectrum, rather than ex ante licensing or bidding at public auction for frequency band… At the moment, Vodacom is attempting a 100% share acquisition of smaller rival Neotel — a deal that might include valuable frequency.

In a South African Tech Central report, MTN’s group CEO is quoted as saying that he would refrain from “automatically” challenging any such acquisition by his main rival:

Asked if MTN would object to a deal between Vodacom and Neotel at the Competition Commission, MTN Group CEO Sifiso Dabengwa said that the operator would not automatically do so. “The issue here is you can’t take a position because of where you are [in the market],” he said. “It has to be principled, no matter which side you’re on.”

It does not take a clairvoyant to see what is behind MTN’s self-imposed restraint: equal hunger for additional spectrum – and acquisitions – which it does not want to stifle by raising rash arguments of anti-competitive effects of the Vodacom/Neotel deal…

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BRICS, compliance, dominance, settlement, South Africa, Telecoms

SA telecoms firm implements antitrust settlement terms

south_africa

According to a report by ITweb Business, the South African incumbent R16 billion telecommunications giant Telkom Limited (no stranger to this blog) has now taken steps to implement its landmark June 2013 settlement in a margin-squeeze and monopolization case brought by the South African Competition Commission (the “Commission”).

The settlement was finalized by the Competition Tribual on 18 July 2013.  Its terms include, importantly for the latest job-related and divisional developments at Telkom, the functional separation between the company’s retail and wholesale divisions, in addition to other pricing commitments, a fine, and ongoing monitoring obligations under the guidance of the Commission.  As reported today, the company has now also issued and implemented a new antitrust/competition compliance policy, its so-called “Competition Settlement Code of Conduct Policy,” reportedly a whopping 25-page document.

In this latest round of compliance efforts, Telkom’s CEO Sipho Maseko is said to have sent out communications to all staff, attempting to alleviate media reports about potential large-scale job cuts.  He is cited as follows: “While I can’t predict the future, I can unhesitatingly say the 12 months that lie ahead will be demanding. Challenges await, of this we can be certain. We will have to be on top of our game and tackle the issues that influence our business with focus and purpose if we are to unlock our full potential.”

Telkom’s CEO

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BRICS, COMESA, dominance, public-interest, South Africa, Telecoms

Antitrust & “extreme economic inequality” – new OXFAM paper out

Arguably, most if not all of today’s antitrust enforcers would agree that the world’s competition regimes (African or Asian, American or European, established or recently budding) are fundamentally designed to achieve very few, but important, goals.  Among these goals are the following: (1) economically, to enhance the market’s allocative efficiency & stimulate growth of production and (2) individually, consistent with Bob Bork‘s key insight, to increase consumer welfare (even if the latter may not be a formally stated aim of some regimes).

Today’s release of the OXFAM briefing paper on “Political Capture and Economic Inequality,” tantalizingly entitled “WORKING FOR THE FEW,” brings the second of the two above-stated goals to the fore:

Is the world today better for the [working] consumer than it was 123 years ago, when Senator Sherman and the majority of the U.S. legislature decried the unjust and ill-gotten riches of that era’s robber barons and enacted the Sherman Act?

Robber Baron

Robber Baron, circa 1890

The paper is interesting but too short to be of real academic or legal value in and of itself, in our view.  The infamous photo of the super-yacht on the authors’ blog represents the easy part of what they set out to accomplish – politicizing the issue and driving popular opinion (much akin to the period newspaper cartoon above).

Robber Baron, circa 2014

That said, authors Ricardo Fuentes and Nick Galasso go somewhat beyond the, by now, usual egalitarian quotes (Brandeis’s Depression-era statement: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both“) and the well-known head-turner statistics of inequality (e.g., “almost half [of the world’s wealth is] going to the richest one percent; the other half to the remaining 99 percent“), many of which are also found on their blog.

Yet, while they do go a bit deeper than merely scratching the surface with populist platitudes and photos of jetsetter playtoys, they fail to do so on the specific issue of how antitrust fits into the question of global economic inequality.  One need not attempt to un-seat Bork from the academic and judicial pedestals he has reigned over for 4 decades, but one could try a bit harder here…  The OXFAM study simply does not provide any new insights.  To its credit, it does identify the issue – but it does not develop the overall impact of competition law any further than highlighting the one (very particularized) example of the allegedly monopolistic Mexican telecoms sector:

Anti-competition and regulatory failure: the richest man in the world
Weak regulatory environments are ideal settings for anti-competitive business practices. Without competition, firms are free to charge exorbitant prices, which cause consumers to lose out and ultimately increase economic inequality. When elites exploit weak or incompetent anti-trust authorities, price gauging follows as a form of government to big business. By not acting when dominant firms crowd out competition, government tacitly permits big business to capture unearned profits, thereby transferring income from the less well-off sections of society to the rich. Consumer goods become more expensive, and if incomes do not rise, inequality worsens.

Mexico’s privatization of its telecommunications sector 20 years ago provides a clear example of the nexus between monopolistic behavior, weak and insufficient regulatory and legal institutions, and resulting economic inequality.

Mexico’s Carlos Slim moves in and out of the world’s richest person spot, possessing a net worth estimated at $73bn. The enormity of his wealth derives from establishing an almost complete monopoly over fixed line, mobile, and broadband communications services in Mexico. Slim is the CEO and Chairman of América Móvil, which controls nearly 80 percent of fixed line services and 70 percent of mobile services in the country. A recent OECD review on telecommunications policy and regulation in Mexico concluded that the monopoly over the sector has had a significant negative effect on the economy, and a sustained welfare cost to citizens who have had to pay inflated prices for telecommunications.

As the OECD report argues, América Móvil’s ‘incessant’ monopolistic behavior is facilitated by a ‘dysfunctional legal system’, which has replaced the elected government’s right and responsibility to develop economic policy and execute regulation of markets. This system has stunted the emergence of a dynamic and competitive telecommunications market. In fact, many of the regulatory instruments present in most OECD countries are absent in Mexico.

The costs of government failure to curb such monopolistic behavior are large. Mexico has a high level of inequality and has the lowest GDP of all OECD countries. As other OECD countries demonstrate, a more efficient telecommunications (especially broadband) sector can play an important role in driving economic growth and reducing poverty, especially among a large rural population, as in Mexico’s case. The OECD calculates that the market dysfunctions stemming from the telecommunications sector have generated a welfare loss of $129.2bn between 2005 and 2009, or 1.8 percent of GDP per year.

In the end, no matter how deeply or superficially the paper treats its subject, it will likely be of great interest to several of the African competition enforcers that preside over antitrust regimes in which the “public interest” criterion is present (e.g., COMESA, South Africa, and several others).  This means in practice: We at AfricanAntitrust.com expect the paper to be cited in the near future by a competition authority near you.  So get acquainted with it before it’s too late.

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Kenya, Media, mobile, mobile payments, Telecoms

Mobile Telecom and Payments sector getting boost from state in Kenya

kenya

See PDF reprint of this article (published by “e-competitions“) here.
According to a release by the Kenyan Communications Commission (CCK), the CCK is cooperating with the country’s Competition Authority (CAK) to enhance the mobile telecoms sector in Kenya.

The CCK is aiming for 90% of all Kenyans to have access to mobile communications devices within five years, thereby seeking to double the telecoms sector’s contribution to the country’s GDP to a total of 5%.  It is noteworthy that Kenya – a comparatively technologically advanced East African nation that currently already has 76% mobile penetration among its residents – is not only relying on the telecom authority to achieve these goals, but the agency is actively collaborating with the competition watchdog CAK.

An article in HumanIPO quotes the CCK director general, Francis Wangusi, as saying: “We are working with the Competition Authority to ensure that all the mobile money transfer platforms are transparent in order to promote competition.”  The official CCK press release is available here.

Other interesting statistics are the planned increase in internet penetration from the current 41.6% to 70% and that of mobile money services from 58.9% to 70% by the end of the 5-year plan.

Mobile payments have been described as “the epicenter of mobile commerce. The merger of the social, mobile, and payment industries has created incredible business growth opportunities for start-ups, social media, banks, retailers, payment networks, and other companies.”

Use of a mobile device such as a cell phone with SMS or internet capability is particularly widespread in many African countries, where brick-and-mortar banks are scarce and not widely used by the vast majority of the population, whereas mobile phones are omnipresent and relatively easily accessible (see the 76% current penetration rate, which rivals that of developed European economies).

Kenya itself is considered by many to be at the forefront of the African mobile-payments universe, with its M-Pesa mobile-currency system often touted as the most developed mobile-payment system in the world.  The Economist asked rhetorically: “Why does Kenya lead the world in mobile money?”, pointing out that roughly 25% of Kenya’s GDP flows through the mobile service, with over 17 million users in Kenya alone.  The WorldBank has commented that “Mobile payments go viral [with] M-PESA in Kenya.”  M-Pesa was originally launched in March 2007 by Vodacom/Safaricom in Kenya and is now jointly operated with other carriers offering services in Tanzania, South Africa, Afghanistan, India and other nations.

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BRICS, dominance, legislation, mobile, predatory pricing, South Africa, Telecoms

South Africa’s mobile operators under attack for discriminatory “on-net” pricing

south_africa

Cell C (one of South Africa’s top 3 mobile telecommunications providers) has filed a complaint against competitors MTN and Vodacom with the Competition Commission, according to its press statement dated October 9, 2013

What appears to be the crux of the Cell C complaint is a predatory pricing argument against MTN and Vodacom — a type of claim that is, generally speaking, not an easy one to make.  Complaining to an antitrust regulator or a court that a rival is charging too low a price for competing services is generally a no-go of an antitrust argument.  You are essentially telling the judge: “my rivals out-compete me! Help me raise prices!

To make out a successful case for truly anti-competitive predatory conduct, you would normally (e.g., in the U.S. or in the EU) have to prove (1) dominance, (2) true below-cost pricing (the economic measure of which is subject to debate, on top of that), (3) a likelihood of success in the subsequent recoupment of any losses incurred, and potentially, depending on your jurisdiction, (4) predatory intent by the dominant firm.

Interestingly, the complaint may have received well-timed (or perhaps too well-timed?) support from the South African Independent Communications Authority (ICA).  The ICA recently announced plans to reduce the so-called “mobile termination rates” by 75%, from 40 to 10 South African cents within 2 years.  This would, we expect, reduce the current differential between on- and off-rate calls.

This of course bodes well for Cell C, as the company has openly stated its desire, according to another report, for “a flat rate” i.e., termination rates of zero.  In its October 11, 2013, proposal to cut termination rates drastically, the ICA tellingly concludes “that competition in the wholesale voice call termination markets … is ineffective owing to inefficient pricing.”  (Draft Regulation at section 5.)  The regulator purportedly used the hypothetical monopolist test to define and evaluate the relevant markets.  Violations of the proposed rate reductions would carry penalties of Rand 500,000 to R1m.

Vodacom is the largest S.A. mobile carrier by number of subscribers, ahead of MTN and Cell C.  MTN — itself no stranger to these blog pages — is the dominant mobile carrier on the African continent, however, and has been accused previously of leveraging its power elsewhere to gain or maintain dominance in other jurisdictions.

According to an article that appeared in the South African journal MoneyWeb, Cell C’s CEO Alan Knott-Craig has complained publicly at an industry conference that its competitors (Vodacom and MTN) are abusing their purported dominant market positions with far lower on-net call rates than off-net rates (i.e., rates to numbers outside the proprietary mobile network).

According to the complainant’s press statement, the key argument “relates to the manner in which the dominant incumbents discriminate between their on-net and off-net effective prices, which has a dramatic and direct impact on smaller operators’ ability to acquire new customers.  The two dominant incumbents discount their effective on-net prices substantially while charging a premium for their customers to call off-net. This amounts to discriminatory pricing and is without doubt anti-competitive when adopted by dominant operators.”

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dominance, South Africa, Telecoms

South Africa: Telkom fined again…

south_africa

South Africa’s Competition Tribunal had a busy week last week tasked with considering the proposed penalties for the various construction companies and also confirming the second significant administrative penalty on South Africa’s incumbent provider of fixed line telecommunication services, Telkom.  In terms of the second order, Telkom has agreed to pay an administrative penalty of R200m and committed to separate its wholesale and retail divisions, in order to reduce the wholesale and retail prices of its products to the value of R875m over five years.

Telkom, was previously before the Tribunal in relation to a further abuse of dominance matter and was fined R449m.  Telkom had appealed the finding but recently withdrew its appeal against the fine which related to allegations of an abuse of dominance in the telecommunications market between 1999 and 2004, a period in which it was a monopoly provider of telecoms facilities in the country. The fine was much less than the R3bn that the commission had initially requested.

In relation to the second order, the Commission found (following receipt of a significant amount of information from Telkom’s downstream competitors) that Telkom had engaged in a so-called “margin squeeze” by billing licenced operators excessive fees for bandwidth and for a product called IPLC (international private leased circuit). The pricing was set at levels that precluded cost-effective competition with Telkom’s retail internet access and services available via a leased line or ADSL access.

In terms of the settlement, Telkom has agreed to reduce prices on specific product lines that had been implicated in the complaints before the commission over the next three financial years, with no increases in the final two years in which the agreement remains in place.

Telkom has also committed itself to a weighting of 70% price reduction in its wholesale division and 30% in its retail division to eliminate any margin squeeze while ensuring that wholesale products savings are passed on to the benefit of its consumers.

It will also embark on a roll-out of strategic points of presence in the public sector at its own cost and discuss the specific needs of state departments with the Department of Communications.

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BRICS, dominance, South Africa, Telecoms

South Africa: MultiChoice may face competition authorities for abuse of dominance

south_africa

On Digital Media (“ODM”), owner of TopTV, has filed a complaint with the South African Competition Commission (“Commission”) against the Naspers controlled company, MultiChoice (which owns DStv as well as SuperSport) alleging abuse of dominance.

ODM alleges that SuperSport unfairly refused to share rights to all Premier Soccer League (“PSL”) matches from 2011 until 2016 with ODM. ODM submits that there is “not another sports broadcaster in the world today that enjoys a similar level of dominance to that of SuperSport” and has accused MultiChoice of contravening the Competition Act 89 of 1998 (“Act”) by refusing to give it access to, what ODM believes, is an “essential facility”, when it is feasible to do so.

The ODM complaint was lodged with the Commission several months ago following a statement made in parliament by Communications Minister Dina Pule, that the Minister would issue a policy directive to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa to address competition in the broadcasting sector.

Commission spokesman, Keitumetse Letebele, said that the complaint is still being processed by the Commission’s screening unit who will write a recommendation to the Commissioner to either drop the case or pursue further investigation.

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