Beware the watchdog

Candice Jones
By Candice Jones, ITWeb online telecoms editor
Johannesburg, 23 Jun 2010

The Department of Communications (DOC) is making good on its promise to bring more muscle to the telecoms and broadcasting regulator.

For years, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) has complained that legislation governing its role in industry regulation is a labyrinth, making it hard to get proper regulation into the market on time.

Now Cabinet has approved possible amendments to the ICASA Act that could see the regulator gain some steam and general efficiency.

“The essence of the proposed amendments is to strengthen the regulator's capacity to help it carry out its mandate with efficiency,” says DOC spokesman Tiyani Rikhotso.

ICASA has long battled with extensive lead times to regulations, only to have many of them stunted by legal action from telecoms operators. Last year, ICASA chairman Paris Mashile even called for a rewrite of the Electronic Communications Act, saying the legislation is a labyrinth.

Not long after, the DOC promised to make changes to the laws to help boost the effectiveness of the regulator, and Cabinet's stamp of approval is the last leg in the bid to give it muscle.

Rikhotso says the proposed legislation will also deal with operational and structural issues that have always affected the authority, providing greater clarity on the roles of the executive and council.

The changes will also affect the running of ICASA, with an aim to improve turnaround times on regulatory matters, and the general efficiency of the organisation. With a new chairman expected to take the helm in the next few weeks, every bit of improvement to the regulator will be welcomed.

The DOC will also set up a tariff advisory council that will oversee telecoms prices in the country, and advise the minister on any retail-related issues.

Rikhotso says when the changes are put on paper, they will have to take into account that the regulator needs to be independent. However, he says they will be published soon and made available for public comment.

ICASA calls for ECA overhaul