Budget speech glosses over funding

Paul Vecchiatto
By Paul Vecchiatto, ITWeb Cape Town correspondent
Johannesburg, 24 May 2007

Communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri today delivered to Parliament her budget vote speech, littered with policy directives, many of which are already enshrined in law.

These directives include her policy position on Infraco, local loop unbundling, licence conversions, digital migration, under-serviced area licence fees, Sentech and the reduction of costs of consumer telecoms.

There was no mention of any funding whatsoever in the speech.

Matsepe-Casaburri intends to make representations aimed at government's new broadband supplier, Infraco, holder of an individual electronic communication network services licence. She intends to implement this through the Parliamentary hearings on the Infraco Bill. These hearings are due to start on 22 June.

In her speech, Matsepe-Casaburri said that Cabinet had affirmed the strategic goal of Sentech as the core wireless broadband provider; especially to government institutions.

She emphasised the importance of reducing international connectivity costs as part of government's wider economic strategy.

In this regard, she says that she expects to bring the Protocol for Nepad, ICT Broadband Network (also known as the East African Submarine Cable System) for ratification by Parliament. The network is planned to be operational by mid-2009.

Matsepe-Casaburri said that all telecommunication companies had committed themselves to this project and she has directed the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) to prioritise and urgently prescribe a list of essential facilities, as envisaged by the Electronic Communications Act (ECA), ensuring that electronic communication facilities connected to the SAT-3 submarine cable can be accessed soon.

Local loop unbundling

As far as the unbundling of the local loop is concerned, the minister said that all appropriately licensed operators should have access to the local loop and that this should be implemented urgently.

She said that ICASA should, as appropriate, take advantage of the Local Loop Unbundling Committee and its recommendations on the proposed models. The unbundling process should be completed by November 2011.

In terms of the licence conversion process, as laid out in the ECA, Matsepe-Casaburri said she has directed ICASA to urgently consider whether none, or only certain, of the existing VANS (value added network services) licensees can be authorised to provide services. ICASA must also consider if VANS should provide and operate electronic communication facilities or networks. If so, such licensees must be issued electronic communications network licences in addition to other licences as specified in the ECA.

Matsepe-Casaburri said that Sentech is on schedule to meet government's commitment of providing about 80% digital terrestrial television coverage by the 2010 Soccer World Cup. She also announced the establishment of a body to oversee the country's digital migration and has called this the Digital Dzonga.

Reviewing USALs

She also announced that, in an effort to address the challenges and weaknesses of the Universal Services Access Licensees (USALs), their structure of ownership and control will be reviewed.

This means that ICASA should issue only one provincial under-serviced area network operator licence. Other measures are: to ensure that the percentage of ownership and control to be held by historically-disadvantaged persons must be not less than 51% or such higher percentage as may be authorised by the minister.

Furthermore, ICASA must ensure that ownership and control by persons or companies interested in investing in USALs shall be restricted to 49% or less.