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Lobby group wants black firms to be priority in TV white space

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 02 Jun 2020
Leon Rolls, president of Progressive Blacks in ICT.
Leon Rolls, president of Progressive Blacks in ICT.

Lobby group the Progressive Blacks in ICT (PBICT) is calling upon government to release the TV white space to black players within three months.

Increased utilisation of TV white space (TVWS) has been touted as an opportunity to connect the world's population that remains without Internet access, according to industry experts.

PBICT president Leon Rolls tells ITWeb that government must release TVWS with urgency to black businesses as a form of empowerment post-COVID-19 lockdown.

The PBICT is also demanding that communications regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) speeds up the awarding the wholesale open access network (WOAN) within the same period.

TVWS refers to unused frequencies in the wireless spectrum between TV broadcasts.

Commercial deployment of the technology has been lagging even after ICASA published the final regulations on the use of TVWS in 2018.

However, last month, the regulator surprised the industry by temporarily awarding three companies licences to provide TVWS-based networks.

Mthinte Communications, Levin Global and Morai Solutions were authorised to use TVWS in the 470MHz to 694MHz band.

Rolls says government must place TVWS technology on the list of priorities and programmes that can help the economy recover.

“Government must release the TV whitespace to black players; ICASA must speed up the WOAN and award it within three months.”

ICASA previously promised to release spectrum this year, though some analysts have been sceptical that this will be accomplished.

Rolls says PBICT also wants the State Information Technology Agency to be immediately “repurposed to focusing on developing standards that favour local production and must be stripped of powers to procure as they have abused them and failed to support local”.

Furthermore, he says PBICT wants Broadband Infraco to be given the budget to achieve its mandates and “the 4IR Commission must come with the strategy to guide government and industry on the immediate and long-term interventions for economic recovery and growth”.

Rolls, who is also bidding for preferential treatment for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) post the COVID-19 lockdown, says the impact of the pandemic on SMEs should be taken seriously.

“SMEs have many solutions and ideas on solutions that can ensure we remain technology-savvy and sovereign.”

He believes the problem of not empowering small enterprise lies in government officials, not the politicians.

Rolls argues that government must stop buying foreign technology and fund local innovation.

“We must learn from this lockdown and open our eyes to ensuring that we can work from home, we build our own operating systems and IOT devices, and most importantly, we manufacture our own technology independent from the West or East.”