The Black IT Forum (BITF), which represents thousands of small and medium enterprises, black professionals and students, has come out strongly in favour of Vodacom’s proposed R7bn acquisition of Neotel and says the former must get access to the latter’s spectrum assets.
It says that the deal will ensure the provision of basic broadband services to homes and schools as envisaged in the national broadband policy, South Africa Connect.
The BITF believes that providing Vodacom with access to Neotel’s spectrum will improve the traditionally mobile operator’s ability to provide cheaper high-speed data services to South African consumers.
BITF president Mdu Mkhonza says it’s in South Africa’s interests that the deal be allowed to go ahead.
“We are saying that in the light of a spectrum policy vacuum, where no decision is being made by the regulator regarding the allocation of spectrum, the country as a whole is being held to ransom. Spectrum is a national asset and the country cannot wait for policy makers to make up their minds. The deal should be allowed to continue.”
However, Mkhonza says the forum wants conditions attached to the allocation of Neotel’s spectrum. He says Vodacom should be allowed to utilise the spectrum for a maximum of five years, after which it must hand it back and subject itself to a bidding process along with other operators.
“The masses have mobile handsets that can be used for education and health. Don’t let the policy vacuum issue delay the market.”
Other conditions the BITF wants attached to the deal include that there should be a moratorium on retrenchments and that Vodacom should also “connect the rural masses”.
“People are not connected to the digital economy.The underserviced area licences were not successful. Vodacom should engage local or regional operators as service providers through an entrepreneurial programme.”
The BITF wants a digital think-tank established, too. “We think issues around the digital economy and the allocation of spectrum for broadband should be addressed on a broader scale,” Mkhonza says.
“We want all roleplayers, including mobile operators, other industry organisations and government, to address how we deal with the policy vacuum on this matter and how we address the lack of capacity to enact policies in time.”
The BITF has engaged with the departments of telecommunications & postal services and communications on the issue, too.
In a presentation sent to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) on Friday, the BITF states its case for support of the deal. Among its reasons is the lack of competition in the fixed-line market. Neotel’s entry into the South African market has not resulted in the required competition, it says.
The BITF says this lack of competition has resulted in South Africa’s low fixed broadband penetration rate. It believes Vodacom has the financial and technical muscle to ensure Neotel is able to roll out a network that will provide competition to Telkom, and in doing so achieve the goals of the National Development Plan.
The forum is still to do a formal presentation to Icasa. — © 2015 NewsCentral Media