ICASA bullish about White Paper

October 25th, 2016, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT



ICASA CEO Col. Pakamile Pongwana

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) came out strong against some of the policies proposed in the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper. Presenting the Annual Performance plan at the ICASA Stakeholder Engagement meeting on 20 October 2016, chief executive officer, Col. Pakamile Pongwana, said the proposals take South Africa back to prior to 1994 when the country had one monopoly. He said creating it again makes no sense. He indicated that ICASA will continue its defence against the interdict the Minister of Telecommunication and Postal Services obtained, preventing ICASA from continuing with the auction of frequencies.

In discussing ICASA’a strategies, he said that these are informed by a number of issues, ie. the National Development Plan (NDP), the Broadband Policy, the Broadcasting Policy, and the National Priority outcomes – outcomes 12, 14 and 16. He saiid that the National integrated ICT Policy had not yet bee published when the strategy was being developed, and that had it been, it would have been difficult to develop a strategy. Not due to its complexity but because it would have taken us back to pre-1994.

Regarding the digital migration strategy he said we are not only late, we are going backwards: the national signal distributor had a digital network in place by 2013, which by 2014 covered about 85% of the country but the dilemma of that body is that it cannot charge a single entity for the digital system, but at the same time must maintain an analogue system that is now archaic. “What’s stopping us is set top boxes. We do not need set to boxes as most TV receivers today can receive both analogue and digital and the price of these TVs is reducing annually by a large percentage. But while we are struggling with set top boxes and digital TV, the International Telecommunications Union is already talking about replacing terrestrial digital TV with satellite distribution, with a target date of 2023. By the time with have switched off analogue, satellite TV will have taken over so we sit with another archaic system for which we are paying dearly”.

About the call for data prices must fall he said that the although the public calls for data costs to reduce, we are withholding spectrum that is required for this to happen. Mobile companies are expected to improve their services, and reduce cost of data but are left with only one choice and that is to densify their networks, which is exponentially more expensive than rolling out systems on increased spectrum.

Pongwana also said that the idea of two regulators does not make sense, but that this would be dealt with when the case was won – referring to the court action by the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Dr. Siyabonga Cwele to stop ICASA ‘s Invitation to Apply (ITA) to take part in the spectrum auction. That case is set to be be back in court soon.

He said the White Paper is just that, a White Paper. There are at least two acts that have to be amended, the ICASA Act and the Electronic Communications Act. This make take a few years with most likely overall court actions. His question was “Can South Africa afford to wait that long?”

Industry says the White Paper is “scary”

At a conference held on the same day, hosted by MyBroadBand, industry leaders said that the White Paper on the National Integrated ICT policy is scary. While there are positive aspects such as the statement that that planned future interventions in the ICT sector will be evidenced based and that wireless solutions will often be the appropriate manner in which to provide access to rural areas, the suggestion that IMT spectrum be returned is absurd.

Telkom’s Dr. Brian Armstrong said operators have made significant investments in network infrastructure with the expectation of recovering costs over a period, and that the fundamental problem is that having spent millions on the network it now has to be returned. He said that industry engagement is needed on this issue, and that the withdrawal of international mobile telecommunications (IMT) spectrum compromises the operators’ anticipated return on invested capital and disincentives future expenditure towards network upgrade and maintenance.The result is that the network coverage footprint will stagnate, innovative new services will fail to materialise and the quality of service will deteriorate. This is contrary to the policy objectives enshrined in the Integrated ICT Policy White Paper. “We support the notion of an ‘open internet’ and the critical requirement to provide differentiated quality of service in response to consumer requirements. However, the establishment of indiscriminate and unfavourable net neutrality regulations could pose threats to the quality of service delivered to consumers, stifle innovation and may compromise the functionality of the Internet, which is inherently counterproductive.”

Reviewing the other activities in the current financial year, Pongwana said that none of their activities were hidden. Plans were reported on in Parliament. He said that in March this year ICASA said: it was going to publish an ITA for IMT spectrum and it did. He said it was not a mistake, it is what the country needs: “Spectrum is available so what are we waiting for?” He said it is not about the money government will get, it is about the money operators will invest in delivering broadband.

He said another initiative in this year’s ICASA action plan is the review of the type approval process. The current process is restrictive and expensive. ICASA recently gazetted an invitation to comment on and make proposals on the type of equipment that should be exempted from type approval. The deadline is 2 December 2016.

Also on this year’s ICASA agenda is a review of the 2014 call termination rate. Should it be reduced or eliminated altogether?

It is difficult enough to report to two ministries, without being taken to court for a policy that was published after the event. Makes you think.

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