ECA Bill gets thumbs up
Cabinet has approved the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill (ECA Bill), which clears the way for the introduction and licensing of the proposed wholesale open access network (WOAN).
The ECA Billl seeks to implement and give effect to the policy objectives set out in the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper, published in late 2016. The Bill contains provisions such as spectrum allocation, the WOAN and rapid deployment policy, which have garnered widespread criticism from some stakeholders in the sector.
Some stakeholders in the industry called for the Bill to be withdrawn, claiming that it will have far-reaching implications for ICT policy and the South African economy in general.
ICT industry stakeholders were invited to submit comments on the provisions contained in the Bill. Telecoms operators and industry players submitted comments on the ECA Bill in January, and in March, industry stakeholders participated in an industry consultation workshop on the ECA Bill.
In a statement, the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) welcomes the Cabinet decision, and says the Bill will be tabled in Parliament this week for consideration and processing.
In addition to licensing spectrum for WOAN, says the DTPS, the Bill provides for measures to improve competition regulation and infrastructure sharing in the sector as well as interventions to strengthen the rapid deployment policy and the approach to the regulation of regional and international roaming.
Minister Siyabonga Cwele believes the finalisation of the Bill, after the Parliamentary process, will create clarity, predictability on the policy direction and the regulation of the sector.
The DTPS statement also welcomes Cabinet's decision to approve the outcome of the study conducted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to determine the spectrum requirements for the WOAN.
The telecoms ministry commissioned the CSIR study to determine how much spectrum the planned WOAN would need and how much would be left over for private companies.
The study confirms that a portion of the radio frequency spectrum can be allocated to the WOAN, with excess capacity going to the industry, says the statement.
"The outcome of this process is crucial for the transformation of the ICT sector to inter alia remove entry barriers, encourage investments by black owned, small and large companies, restructure the market to lower the cost of infrastructure investment, thereby contributing to the reduction in the cost of communications," notes Cwele.
"Black-owned companies, SMMEs and the existing operators have a role to play in creating an enabling environment for the transition to the fourth industrial revolution. The conclusion of this process will allow government to plan forward and prepare to deal with further technological advances including 5G."
According to the statement, Cwele is scheduled to engage the Independent Communications Authority of SA, as required by the law, about the finalisation of a policy direction which will enable the regulator to implement policy. "The CSIR study will also form part of the policy direction and will be released to the public after consultation with the regulator."