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ISPA asks govt to remove barriers to comms licensing

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South Africa’s Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) has called on government and regulator, theIndependent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA), to open up the communications licensing arena.

This, as ISPA believes there is no reason, under the Electronic Communications Act (ECA), that any qualifying telecoms market entrant should not be able to apply for a communications licence.

The association notes that no new individual electronic communications service (IECS) or individual electronic communications network service (IECNS) licences have been issued since 2010.

The IECS or IECNS are authorisations required by new fibre providers or Internet service providers (ISPs) to be able to operate legally in the country’s telecoms market.

According to ISPA, it has written to communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and ICASA to voice that facilitating greater market entry would boost competition and transformation.

Specifically, ISPA says it has requested the minister to give due consideration to issuing a policy direction as contemplated under section 3(2) read with section 5(6) of the ECA, and direct ICASA to issue an invitation to apply (ITA) for IECNS licences.

The association has called on ICASA to issue a standing ITA for the issuing of an IECS licence to qualifying applicants under the ECA.

While it has not received a response from either party, ISPA says it is hopeful the current position where licences are transferred on the secondary market, often at exorbitant prices, will be replaced by a standing ITA that would allow qualifying applicants to approach ICASA directly for IECS and IECNS licences required for national service provision.

“The restriction on the issuing of IECNS licences is a left-over from the policy of ‘managed liberalisation’ – the idea that the telecommunications market would be slowly opened up to competition post-Telkom – which is no longer of application. The 2014 amendment to the ECA expressly removed the words ‘managed liberalisation’ from section 5(6) and there is nothing in the National ICT Policy White Paper which supports such a restriction.

“The bulk issuing of more than 500 IECS and IECNS licence pairs in 2009 and 2010 removed any policy rationale for restricting the issuing of licences for the operation of electronic communications networks.”

Dominic Cull, regulatory advisor to ISPA, adds: “The current situation creates artificial barriers to entry to an ICT market that is absolutely crucial for South Africa’s future growth and aspirations of being part of an inclusive fourth industrial revolution.

“ISPA believes it would be easy to remove this obstacle to growing and transforming the industry, and calls on the minister and ICASA to take the necessary steps.”

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