Telecommunications & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele must abandon his plan to take legal action to stop communications regulator Icasa from proceeding with a plan to auction off broadband spectrum in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance said on Tuesday.
DA MP Marian Shinn said the “machinations of the ANC to control who is given the high-demand spectrum must stop”.
“It is time to let Icasa exercise its authority as a chapter nine institution to act impartially in the best interest of South Africa,” said Shinn.
She commended Icasa for going ahead with the invitation to apply, against the wishes of the telecoms ministry.
“A week ago, Icasa — in a spirited move to assert its mandated independence as a chapter nine institution — issued a government gazetted invitation to information and communications technology enterprises to lodge their interest in participating in spectrum auctions to take place in Johannesburg in January 2017,” she said.
“The matter of how to allocate wireless broadband spectrum that is critical to the expansion of South Africa’s knowledge-based service delivery and economic growth, has been subjected to a decade of politically inspired delays within the governing ANC as it dithered on how it could control the potentially lucrative spectrum.”
TechCentral reported on Monday evening that Cwele had decided to take legal action against Icasa after twice meeting with the authority and asking it to halt the process. The minister said it had refused to do so.
On 15 July, Icasa issued an invitation to apply for access to spectrum to provide next-generation 4G/LTE services using the 700MHz, 800MHz and 2,6GHz frequency bands.
The move was unexpected given that the telecoms department had not finalised a white paper on integrated ICT policy, which was expected to provide direction on how the spectrum would be allocated.
“The position of government is that it is the custodian of spectrum, which is a national and public resource and whose utilisation must benefit all the people of South Africa,” Cwele’s office said in a statement. “There is presently no policy direction on spectrum that has been issued. The policy process is ongoing but as yet still incomplete.
“In taking its decision to go ahead and by publishing its notice, Icasa has failed to adhere to the prescripts of the relevant policies, legislation and regulations, and in particular the provisions of [the] Electronic Communications [Act],” the minister’s office said.
“The minister is concerned that Icasa’s invitation to apply for the auctioning of the spectrum was issued without consultation and prior notification to government as the policy maker. A further concern is the haste with which Icasa is proceeding to dispose of the spectrum given that this spectrum will not be immediately available.
But Shinn described Icasa’s move as a “bold step” that comes after “10 years of dithering on the spectrum policy by successive ANC communications ministers over how it was best to allocate the high-demand spectrum to ‘new’ entrants to the telecoms sector”.
“In February, Cwele made it clear to the parliamentary portfolio committee on telecommunications & postal services that he preferred a closed-bid process,” Shinn said. “This revealed his conflict with Icasa, which told us that an auction was the most efficient and transparent method to assign spectrum.”
She said the spectrum policy is “unnecessarily bogged down” by the ICT policy white paper review process that was started in 2012. The policy is now “entangled in a tug-of-war of competing factions in the ANC’s communications subcommittee after it was submitted to cabinet in March”.
“The reasons why successive communications ministers have delayed the issue of policy and the assignment of spectrum have never been clear. But what is certain is that repeated delays by politicians are negatively impacting the empowerment, through ICT, of all South Africans — particularly the marginalised communities — and is a major hindrance to the economic growth and job creation potential of South Africa.” — © 2016 NewsCentral Media