Progressive Blacks in ICT slams soft legislation

Leon Rolls, president of Progressive Blacks in ICT.
Leon Rolls, president of Progressive Blacks in ICT.

Lobby group, Progressive Blacks in ICT (PBICT), says it is time for government to write laws that favour the majority.

PBICT's comments are in reference to public hearings on the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill (ECA Bill).

Telecoms role-players, including Vodacom, PBICT, ICASA and the South African Communications Forum, to name a few, have this week been invited to make oral presentations before Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services on the provisions contained in the ECA Bill.

The Bill, tabled before the National Assembly by former telecoms and postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele, seeks to amend the Electronic Communications Act of 2005 and give effect to the policy objectives set out in the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper.

It contains provisions such as spectrum allocation, reduction in infrastructure duplication, the proposed wholesale open access network and rapid deployment policy. Furthermore, the Bill seeks to provide for transformation of the sector through enforcement of broad-based black economic empowerment, according to the telecoms department.

The proposed legislation, however, has drawn widespread criticism from the industry. Some stakeholders have called for the policy directive to be withdrawn, claiming it will have far-reaching implications for ICT policy and the South African economy in general.

Industry transformation

Leon Rolls, president of PBICT, believes there needs to be a regulatory framework that supports transformation within the sector.

PBICT describes its mission as ensuring black people have full access to the ICT sector.

Legislation, Rolls points out, needs to accommodate the previously disadvantaged and not only "those with big pockets that can challenge the government through expensive lawyers".

"Our fight as PBICT for access and ownership continues. We find it very confusing that as black people in South Africa more than two decades after our freedom, we must fight government for equal opportunities for black people.

"We have taken a conscious decision that we cannot rest whilst our people are excluded by taking advantage of their economic dispensation of which the seed and root is the evils of the apartheid regime.

"The laws [are] written...to promote the gap between the haves and the have-nots. When we talk black empowerment we only refer to the few elite; such cannot continue to be the order of the day, not today; not ever," states Rolls.

Investor-friendly environment

In its submission, Vodacom reveals it supports government's objectives to increase broadband coverage, promote affordable broadband and innovation, and transform the sector.

The mobile operator, however, argues these objectives can and should be achieved through promoting investment and network competition within the best practice in the current Act and not through the changes contemplated in the Bill.

"We agree with much of what is broadly contemplated by the policy direction. Our assessment is that the majority of the goals set out in the white paper can be achieved under the existing Act. This will promote an investor-friendly environment, without detracting from the transformation and universal access objectives, and enable the timely and efficient roll-out of much-needed broadband network and new technologies, for the benefit of consumers and the whole South African economy."

The mobile network operator believes the ECA Bill should not be rushed through Parliament.

It urges government to pause and carefully consider the far-reaching (and significantly adverse) implications of the Bill for the sector and consumers.

"We recommend that the policy direction process, with the fine-tuning that we suggest in our submissions, continues as quickly as possible."

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