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'Illegal' fibre moratorium lifted

Barriers between government and industry need to be lifted if SA is to overcome its declining telecoms competitiveness, says FTTH Council Africa president Richard Came.

After a close on two-month tussle between industry and the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality (EMM), the latter has lifted what was alleged to be an “illegal moratorium” on fibre deployment in Johannesburg's extensive East Rand region.

As fibre industry activist group FTTH Council Africa (FTTH) was on the verge of instituting an urgent court application to put an end to a moratorium that effectively crippled electronic communications networks (ECNS) licensees, and resulted in operators losing millions of rands, the EMM lifted its moratorium, with effect from Wednesday.

The moratorium, put in place on 20 March, has since been the bane of FTTH and the industry it represents. At the time, FTTH CEO Juanita Clark said the moratorium was put in place with no forewarning from the EMM.

Clark said it was, in effect, illegal, as it was “a violation of the Electronic Communications Act”. However, an EMM spokesperson said the moratorium was necessary, in order for an audit on the location of fibre-optic cables to be carried out, and for the “refining of internal processes”.

Clark said, despite various attempts to negotiate a reasonable solution, the council and EMM reached a stalemate. She said, in the meantime, significant financial losses were incurred, with at least 5 000 job losses and well over R150 million in financial losses for the industry.

Not the last

Yesterday FTTH announced the EMM had issued a notification that the moratorium had been lifted. “In their correspondence with the FTTH Council [the EMM] indicated that they have started key projects and hope to have alignment with private sector with their future plans on fibre rollout.”

Council president Richard Came says, however, that FTTH maintains its point of view that imposing a unilateral moratorium is at no time a solution to resolving internal issues. “Over the past five years, the private sector has invested billions of rands in building fibre-optic telecommunications infrastructure which enhances services available to businesses and residents in metros such as Ekurhuleni.

“This level of investment will not continue if telecommunications operators and contractors continue to experience unpredictable and inconsistent application of policy and legislation.”

Clark says, while the industry body has done its job and welcomes the EMM's decision to lift the moratorium, “it is not the first, and won't be the last time that this happens”. She says the rapid growth of the telecommunications industry on the one hand, and the lack of legislation and blurred parameters on the other, indicates there will be a repetition of this kind of situation.

“The industry has faced many challenges, mainly due to the absence of active legislation; however, for exactly this reason, open communication is required by all involved and the rights of all stakeholders need to be considered at all times.”

Came says, for SA to arrest the decline in competitiveness in the African ICT market, alignment between the private and the public sector is a prerequisite. “The FTTH Council Africa has always played a facilitative role between government and industry, in order that both understand each other's requirements and attempt to reach consensus on matters that are not clearly legislated. We will do so again if asked by the EMM, if it means we can remove potential barriers between parties.”

Johannesburg's East Rand extends from Germiston in the west to Springs in the east, and south down to Nigel, and includes the towns of Boksburg, Benoni, Brakpan, Kempton Park, Edenvale, and Bedfordview.


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