ECA Bill approved and ready for public comment

November 23rd, 2017, Published in Articles: EngineerIT, Featured: EngineerIT

On Friday, 17 November 2017, Cabinet approved the 115-page Electronic Communications Amendment (ECA) Bill, giving the public and industry just 30 calendar days in which to comment, after which the consultation period will be closed and further objection prohibited.

Minister Siyabonga Cwele and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) team have crafted a bill to force South African communication into a state monopoly where DTPS will control all communications services.

Free Market Foundation (FMF) executive director, Leon Louw, said in a statement said that the industry is again stunned at the contents, which ignores months of behind-doors negotiation with the top six mobile network operators, and reverts to the original much-criticised White Paper positions.

Industry insiders believed a compromise solution had been reached and in fact the Minister himself had said so several times. Yet again, government has used duplicitous tactics and shown scant regard for good faith negotiation and public participation. Speculation as to the real agenda remains high. The impact for consumers and the economy in terms of access to new technologies, quality of service and the price of data, is significant. Data prices will rise, not fall. The FMF is calling for an extension of the consultation period to the end of February – 90 days – to allow for real public consultation and encourages others to do the same.

Three key issues of concern in the 2016 White Paper remain in the Bill:

  • There are plans to implement a monopoly network, wireless open access network (WOAN) – a system that has been abandoned in the few countries that considered it.
  • Mobile network operators (MNOs) will be required to return previously allocated spectrum in which they have invested billions of rands.
  • MNOs will need to provide access to their network infrastructure to competitors at cost-based pricing.

The draft bill is one of nine new and amendment bills proposed by Minister Cwele to implement the now infamous white paper. The ECA Amendment Bill will virtually take away all powers from the Regulator –  the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) – and diminish the organisation into a recommending body with all final powers resting in DTPS rather than the authority ICASA was set out to be.

The draft bill can be downloaded from the DTPS website here 

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