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DTPS, ICT industry discuss ECA Amendment Bill

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The Bill contains provisions that relate to spectrum, the planned wholesale open access network and rapid deployment policy.
The Bill contains provisions that relate to spectrum, the planned wholesale open access network and rapid deployment policy.

The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) says it has met with the ICT industry and associations to explain the rationale behind the provisions contained in the Electronic Communications Act (ECA) Amendment Bill.

The meeting, held yesterday, was organised through the National ICT Forum and brought together representatives from the forum's economic chamber and other role-players. The DTPS says the meeting was the second engagement with the industry and it is aimed at explaining some of the Bill's provisions that are in the public domain, such as spectrum, the proposed wholesale open access network (WOAN) and rapid deployment policy, "all of which are aimed at achieving universal service and access".

DTPS director-general Robert Nkuna says the Bill is about balancing the interests of all the stakeholders in the sector. He says the process is not about renegotiating the policy, but about how to implement it with a common understanding of the key objectives in a manner that contributes to economic growth.

"We are going ahead with the establishment of the WOAN. There is no intention to establish a government-owned WOAN. The WOAN will be a private sector-led initiative," Nkuna says.

He adds the rapid deployment policy is one way in which government is seeking to lower the costs for the operators, and ultimately, for consumers.

There is no intention to establish a government-owned WOAN [wholesale open access network]. The WOAN will be a private sector-led initiative.

Robert Nkuna

"The Bill aims to give effect to the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper and facilitates services-based competition, elimination of infrastructure duplication and transformation in the sector. The ultimate beneficiaries of this policy will be consumers who can expect a wider choice and cheaper services over time," the DTPS says.

Meanwhile, the Free Market Foundation (FMF) claims the Bill will have "far-reaching implications for consumers, industry and economy" and will actually cause data prices to rise and Internet access to fall.

The FMF says the Bill "ignores industry and think-tank submissions, and makes a mockery of good faith negotiation and proper public participation". The group also believes the Bill's content shows a clear disregard for industry and other submissions and input on the ICT White Paper which preceded it.

DTPS director-general Robert Nkuna.
DTPS director-general Robert Nkuna.

On 17 November, Cabinet approved the ECA Amendment Bill and gave the public and industry until 17 December (30 calendar days) to comment. FMF executive director Leon Louw has criticised the short comment period and is calling for an extension of the consultation period to the end of February (90 days) "to allow for real public consultation".

The DTPS says there will be additional roundtable discussions with other stakeholders over the next few weeks to continue providing clarity on the Bill.

The department says it is "committed to continuous meaningful engagements with all stakeholders" as it seeks to implement the ICT Policy White Paper in a manner that is least disruptive to investment in the sector.

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