The department of telecommunications & postal services is actively redrafting the controversial Electronic Communications Amendment Bill, with the minister, Siyabonga Cwele, set to outline more details in the department’s budget vote in parliament on 17 May.
Cwele’s spokesman, Siya Qoza, said on Monday that following a recent two-day workshop with industry stakeholders on the draft legislation, the department is “incorporating” feedback received into the bill, which will then be presented to cabinet before being submitted to parliament for further engagement with the industry.
Qoza could not immediately say when the redrafted bill is likely to be presented to cabinet, or what changes are being made, but added that the plan is to table it in parliament during the current financial year, which ends on 31 March 2019. He hinted that it might happen earlier.
“The next public engagement will be through the parliamentary process,” he said.
Government has drawn heavy fire over the amendment bill, with Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub describing it as the telecoms industry’s “mining charter” at the telecoms department workshop, which was held in Pretoria in early March. Joosub was referring to the charter that has led to investor uncertainty and undermined investment in the mineral resources sector.
“This for us is a crisis,” Joosub told representatives from the department of telecoms & postal services, led by director-general Mabuse Nkuna. Not mincing his words, Joosub warned government that the bill was already scaring away investors. “The industry lost close to R80bn last year in market cap … purely because there is a lot of uncertainty,” he said.
Vodacom and MTN — along with the Free Market Foundation, Research ICT Africa, the GSM Association and others — have skewered government’s plan to reserve the majority (if not all) so-called “high-demand” spectrum (used for mobile broadband) for a new wholesale open-access network (Woan) and for threatening to take away spectrum already assigned to the operators. Telkom and Cell C have said the Woan idea makes sense, with Telkom arguing it should get all unassigned mobile broadband spectrum.
Joosub warned that taking away the operators’ spectrum would amount to expropriation. “The impact of this is investment will slow down. When telcos invest, they invest for the long term. The minute you start to talk about returning spectrum, it makes the entire network useless.”
He said it was urgent that operators be granted access to new spectrum. “The industry hasn’t had (new) spectrum in 14 years,” he said. This means operators are having to reallocate spectrum and build additional base stations to increase the density of coverage. Additional spectrum would lessen the need for new sites and drive down the cost to carry network traffic, and hence the price per megabyte paid by consumers, he added.
Vodacom, MTN and others have cautioned against the creation of a so-called “dominant” Woan as well as government’s plan to force operators to open their networks to rivals on a cost basis using open-access principles. — © 2018 NewsCentral Media