Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has gazetted a new policy on the deployment of communications networks in SA, and has allowed the public to comment on the proposal before implementation.
The policy aims to accommodate the accelerated deployment of electronic communications networks, such as LTE and 5G.
The policy gives mobile networks and other licensees the right to select, enter and use public or private land for the deployment of their network infrastructure.
This as the Constitutional Court last month delivered a blow to Telkom, dismissing the company’s bid to be allowed to install telecommunications stations – cellphone masts – at locations of its choice without prior approval from local authorities.
The long-running battle over the cellphone masts between Telkom and the City of Cape of Town dated back to 2016, when Telkom installed a cellphone mast in Heathfield, without prior approval from the city.
Although the technology is still a long way from becoming mainstream, so far Vodacom, MTN and mobile data-only network Rain have activated their next-generation 5G networks in parts of SA.
According to the proposed policy, any infrastructure built on this land would belong to the network which built it, and property owners are directed to avoid damage to the facilities built on their property.
Additionally, it says, owners may not charge companies for building infrastructure on their property, except under certain conditions.
These include cases where more intrusive electronic communications networks or facilities, such as masts, are erected on a property.
This policy is currently open to written comments from interested parties, and will be until 30 working days after the date of publication.
In the gazette, the department says the minister intends to issue the policy and policy direction in the Schedule to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) in terms of section 21 read with section 3(2) of the Electronic Communications Act, 2005 (Act No 36 of 2005).
The purpose of the proposed policy is to provide clarity on the deployment of electronic communications networks and facilities.
“The purpose of the proposed policy direction is to direct the authority to prescribe regulations on procedures and processes for resolving disputes that may arise between an electronic communications network service licensee and any landowner, in order to satisfy the public interest in the rapid rollout of electronic communications networks and electronic communications facilities,” says the department.
As soon as possible after public consultation, the minister will issue a final policy direction to ICASA.
Section 21 of the ECA provides that the minister must, in consultation with the minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs; the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development; the minister of human settlements, water and sanitation; the minister of environment, forestry and fisheries; ICASA; and other relevant institutions, develop a policy and policy directions for the rapid deployment and provisioning of electronic communications facilities, following which the authority must prescribe regulations.
Ndabeni-Abrahams says property owners must exercise due care and diligence to avoid damage to electronic communications networks or facilities deployed on their property.
“If such electronic communications networks or facilities are damaged due to the fault of a property owner, reasonable compensation agreed to between the property owner and the electronic communications network service licensee is payable,” she says.