Govt’s draft spectrum policy zeros in on SMEs

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 09 Sept 2022
Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.

Ensuring small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) access spectrum and participate in the ICT sector is top of government’s agenda, as the state looks to get new entrants in this space.

This objective was revealed during communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni’s media briefing yesterday about the proposed Next-Generation Radio Frequency Spectrum Policy, commonly known as the spectrum policy.

Ntshavheni’s ministry yesterday confirmed the gazetting of the proposed spectrum policy, inviting interested persons to submit written submissions in relation to it.

Detailing the objectives of the spectrum policy, the minister stressed the importance of driving broader and inclusive economic participation and development for all.

“The current spectrum regime of South Africa continues to exclude SMMEs and new entrants in the data market in favour of a few market players,” she stated.

“Through this policy, we aim to adopt a spectrum management approach that promotes SMME participation and emergence of new entrants to the ICT sector. Our commitment of economic inclusion through the participation of SMMEs in the ICT sector remains a priority.

“While we acknowledge that due to limitations in spectrum, it is not possible to license spectrum to all more than 400 ECNS and ECS licence-holders, of which the majority are SMMEs. However, we must continue with measures which will ensure that ultimately SMMEs are included in the ICT sector, including on access to spectrum.”

Ntshavheni’s pronouncements come as small business players have publicly voiced dissatisfaction at being excluded from the sector.

When it was announced in March that Cabinet proposed amendments to remove the requirements to license the wholesale open access network (WOAN), SMEs said government was effectively shutting the door on smaller players that do not have the financial muscle to enter the telecoms industry and compete with the incumbents.

For SMEs, the WOAN is a tool for transformation in the ICT telecoms sector and a way to allow them to access spectrum and participate in the network built for the country.

Combining entities

According to Ntshavheni, the policy further supports the deployment and licensing of alternative infrastructure networks, such as WiFi and community networks, for extending access to spectrum.

In addition, this iteration of the policy aims to support the introduction of spectrum for the state digital infrastructure company, revealed the minister.

South Africa’s state digital infrastructure company will be the result of the merger of Broadband Infraco (BBI) and signal distributor Sentech.

The coming together of the entities is envisaged to ensure BBI and Sentech, when merged, achieve enhanced growth in terms of revenue and profitability than they would have in their current form, as separate entities.

Last December, it was revealed that a process that would potentially see BBI acquire Sentech was on the table, to speed up the merger of the entities.

Yesterday, Ntshavheni saidthe state digital infrastructure company will aid in bridging the connectivity and digital divide through facilitating SMME participation in the sector.

“Therefore, the intention is to create a policy framework that streamlines and eliminates any regulatory requirements that may impede the viability and sustainability for all who must participate in this sector.”

With the country continuing to experience shortage in allocation of spectrum for mobile services, Ntshavheni stated: “We will therefore continue to actively advance and defend South Africa's spectrum use in international fora, including advocating for additional spectrum allocation through the release of spectrum for IMT in other bands.”