DTPS not renegotiating ICT White Paper

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The DTPS is committed to finalising its implementation plan for the ICT Policy White Paper by the end of March.
The DTPS is committed to finalising its implementation plan for the ICT Policy White Paper by the end of March.

The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) is not planning to renegotiate its National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper but is considering proposals from the industry on how the policy can be implemented.

DTPS spokesperson Siya Qoza told ITWeb via e-mail that a joint-proposal from a group of six telecoms operators is being considered. The telcos' proposal is one of 12 the department has received on the implementation of various aspects of the policy, and he says the department is considering all of the proposals.

Qoza says the DTPS is committed to finalising its implementation plan for the White Paper by the end of this month and "shall continue to engage all role-players as we seek the best possible ways of implementing the policy".

"This undertaking is not to renegotiate the ICT White Paper because the policy is final. It is aimed at consulting on how do we best implement the policy as quickly as possible," he explains.

An MTN spokesperson confirmed with ITWeb that the joint-proposal was presented by Deloitte on behalf of itself and five other operators on 17 February at an industry meeting called by DTPS minister Siyabonga Cwele. The proposal is reportedly a hybrid model, which suggests operators receive individual spectrum allocations as well as spectrum being allocated for government's planned wireless open access network (WOAN).

Wireless Business Solutions declined to comment but did confirm to ITWeb it is one of the six operators that submitted the joint proposal. Vodacom also confirmed its involvement. The other operators are believed to be Cell C, Neotel and Telkom but had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Issues abound

The White Paper, which was three years in the making, was finalised and published in September 2016. The new policy is supposed to replace the separate white papers on telecommunication (1996) and postal services (1998).

Analysts and industry experts have not been too excited about government's plan to shake-up previous policy frameworks for spectrum allocation in favour of the deployment of a WOAN. MTN, Vodacom and Telkom have all come out with varying degrees of concern over the policy and in particular the implications a WOAN would have for their businesses.

In the past, individual licensees were given access to spectrum though exclusive rights for a given period and geographical area. Government now wants to proceed with an open access regime that would see infrastructure and spectrum sharing between networks through "a public-private sector-owned and -managed consortium".

Outgoing MTN SA CEO Mteto Nyati previously told ITWeb the creation of a WOAN "is nothing other than the creation of a monopoly". Telkom also spoke out last October about its concerns, with retiring chief commercial officer Brian Armstrong saying the policy's proposal for operators to return currently assigned spectrum "goes against international best practice" and would compromise operators' anticipated return on investment and disincentivise future expenditure towards network upgrades and maintenance.

"The fundamental problem is you have spent millions on the network and then have to return it. We need industry engagement on this issue," Armstrong said at the time.

Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub told ITWeb in an interview in November that he thought government and mobile operators needed to find some middle ground for spectrum and the new ICT policy.

"The [WOAN] model that has been proposed is an untested model, so what we should do is reserve some spectrum for it and allow the smaller players to pursue it ? so that they do have access to spectrum ? but at the same time take advantage of the big networks that you have created so that they can build out coverage faster and to the rural areas," Joosub said.

Telkom agreed infrastructure-based competition should be preserved in well-served urban areas but that it could support the idea of a WOAN as a means to extend coverage and promote service-based competition in underserved areas, where the duplication of network infrastructure is economically unfeasible.

The path forward

The department says it has shared its draft implementation plan and the accompanying legislative programme with the role-players.

"We are prioritising the implementation of the aspects of the policy that do not require amendments to legislation. Such aspects can be implemented quickly. The legislative programme highlights the areas that require legislative changes and maps a process of effecting these," Qoza says.

He says the White Paper outlines public participation processes that need to be followed to finalise decisions in relation to incumbents' spectrum holdings.

"More consultation will happen when the Bills are published, as it is standard practice. We are not aware of reasons for legal challenges as these processes have not been concluded."

The DTPS says the policy is aimed at transforming the ICT sector into a "competitive, inclusive and innovative digital and knowledge society".

"We obviously encourage the ICT sector to align itself and exceed the targets in the BBBEE ICT Charter Code. This code complements the goals of the policy by proposing measurable targets towards transforming the sector. It is also a product of consultations with the sector."

Additional spectrum allocation was held up last year by a squabble between the DTPS and telecoms regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA). The DTPS in September succeeded in interdicting ICASA from continuing with a planned spectrum auction, which would have given telecoms operators the opportunity to bid for spectrum in the highly sought-after 700MHz, 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands. Last month, ICASA announced it had deferred the timeframe for the auction "until further notice".

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