The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (ICASA) Complaints and Compliance Committee (CCC) has dealt MTN a firm blow with recent fine.

The fine pertains to MTN’s decision to increase the price of a 1GB WhatsApp bundle from R10 to R30 without waiting the compulsory seven working days as set out in regulation of ICASA’s Standard Terms and Conditions.

The ruling which can be found in full here, sets out both MTN and ICASA’s arguments.

MTN says that because of a 300 percent increase in traffic over an eight week period, its network was being put at risk. The source of the traffic increase? A 1GB WhatsApp Bundle selling for R10.

The firm said that waiting the compulsory seven working days before implementing the increase put its network at risk. After informing ICASA of its plans and not receiving a response, MTN read that as tacit consent and two days after informing ICASA it increased the pice.

As MTN would soon learn, ICASA is not a fan of firms assuming it agrees to things and so a case was brought against it.

However, ICASA is not immune to fault in this matter. MTN argued that because the regulator had not responded to it, it had no choice but to make a call and increase the bundle’s price to protect its network. The matter was urgent according to MTN and it had no choice but to stymie the influx of traffic from WhatsApp.

The end result of this is the CCC issuing a R5 million fine to MTN of which R2 million is suspended so long as MTN doesn’t contravene this regulation again withing three years of the judgement.

“The conclusion which the CCC has reached is that the circumstances justify a fine. Regulation 9(1)(b) was knowingly contravened,” the division said.

“The finding of the CCC is that MTN was in grave error by introducing the R10 deal. This was, as indicated above, the main cause of the problems which arose for MTN. The error cannot, as found earlier in this judgment, be invoked as a defence: neither as a ground for a finding that there was not a substantial contravention or on grounds of necessity,” the CCC wrote.

It’s clear that the CCC is making an example of MTN here to send a clear message to telcos.

“It should be made clear that ICASA places a high premium on its right to be informed on price adjustments and that the fine must clearly demonstrate the gravity of the offence,” the CCC said.

MTN has 90 days to pay ICASA the remaining R3 million of the fine.