The department of communications has withdrawn the controversial Electronic Communications Amendment Bill, just weeks after critics warned it undermined the independent broadcasting and telecommunications regulator and could face constitutional challenge.
“The department wishes to withdraw the bill with immediate effect … to allow for further consultation within government on [its] contents,” it says in a statement. “Once this process is concluded, the bill will again be published to solicit further input from the broader information and communications technology industry and affected stakeholders.”
The bill, which proposes the first big amendments to the 2005 Electronic Communications Act, has come under heavy fire from industry associations and legal experts, including the GSM Association, the influential body that represents most of the world’s mobile operators.
The GSMA has decried a proposal in the draft bill that would have centralised decisions around SA’s scarce radio frequency spectrum in the ministry of communications instead of at the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa). The association has warned that could result in spectrum being allocated to companies or government agencies that won’t make optimal use of it.
“To move spectrum licensing out of the domain of the regulatory body and shift it into the policy-making body could create some problems down the road,” Peter Lyons, the GSMA’s director of market development and spectrum policy, told TechCentral in a recent interview. “Decisions will be more susceptible to outside influence when you take them out of the portfolio of the regulator and move them into more of a ministerial role.”
Kathleen Rice, a director in Cliff Dekker Hofmeyr’s technology, media and telecoms practice, said the proposed amendments could be unconstitutional because Icasa arguably enjoys constitutional protection as a chapter 9 institution. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral
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