CSIR WOAN report and revised ECA bill to go to parliament

August 30th, 2018, Published in Uncategorised articles

The cabinet has approved the study conducted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to determine the spectrum requirements for the Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) as envisaged in the Integrated ICT Policy white paper. The white paper was approved by the cabinet in September 2016 but was opposed by many sectors of the industry. The CSIR study has confirmed that a portion of the radio frequency spectrum can be allocated to the wholesale open access network (WOAN), with excess capacity going to the industry.

The CSIR study has been a contentious issue at several hearings about the WOAN, with industry questioning the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) as to why the study was not being made available to the industry. The answer repeatedly given was that the report had to first be approved by cabinet. It has now been approved, but will only be made available once it is presented to parliament. The problem is that of transparency. The report was delivered to the DTPS many months ago, so why hold it back? Did the DTPS not like its content and send it back for revision? What other reasons could there be for withholding it?

“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,” said Minister Cwele. He said, “The conclusion of this process will allow government to plan forward and prepare to deal with further technological advances including 5G”.

The minister’s statement raises the question why government wants to deal with technological advances. That should be left to the industry and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to regulate the spectrum. 5G will not be on the cards for at least another five years while operators are refarming the limited spectrum available to them to provide LTE, while government has been holding back on making spectrum available for the past ten years. Lack of spectrum is one of the main factors in the high cost of communication.

The minister is scheduled to engage the ICASA, 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.

Cabinet also approved the revised Electronic Communications Amendment Bill for tabling in parliament. This follows extensive consultations with the industry and the public. The bill, amongst others, provides for the following:

  • Introduction and licensing of the WOAN.
  • Measures to improve competition regulation and infrastructure sharing in the sector.
  • Interventions to strengthen the rapid deployment policy and the approach to the regulation of regional and international roaming.

Minister Cwele said the finalisation of the bill, after the parliamentary process, will create clarity, predictability on the policy direction and the regulation of the sector.

The bill is scheduled to be tabled in parliament this week for consideration and processing. South Africa is holding its breath! Watch this space.