Communications regulator Icasa on Tuesday blasted various aspects of government’s Electronic Communications Amendment Bill, warning, among other things, that the draft legislation falls foul of the constitutional protection of property rights.
In a presentation at a public workshop in Pretoria arranged by the department of telecommunications & postal services, Icasa CEO Willington Ngwepe said a proposal in the bill that mobile operators be forced to return radio frequency spectrum could be unconstitutional.
“It could amount to expropriation of the (existing) licensees’ rights, especially if the requirement to return the spectrum takes place during the subsistence of their current licences,” Ngwepe said.
“If licensees already assigned spectrum and have licences for a specific duration of term are now required to return the spectrum … during their existing licence terms … we may be falling foul of the constitution in terms of the right to property,” he added.
Icasa also criticised government’s plan to assign unallocated broadband spectrum to a wholesale open-access network (Woan) operator. Government wants to create a private sector-led Woan and assign a large chunk of, if not all, unassigned “high-demand” (broadband) spectrum to the new entity. Many industry players have warned this could lead to a new infrastructure monopoly in South Africa.
“The bill proposes that unassigned high-demand spectrum must be assigned to the Woan following a policy direction by the minister. The proposed creation of a monopolistic Woan is contrary to the principles of fair competition, the stimulation of investment and technological advancement,” Ngwepe said.
“The authority recommends that other alternatives to the Woan model (be found), such as infrastructure sharing, to enhance competition and increase broadband coverage in South Africa,” he added.
He warned that assigning all available spectrum to the Woan could “undermine innovation”.
“We would recommend a model that does not undermine competition, a model that incentivises investment and allows innovators to continue to innovate…
“As we implement this Woan, our main caution would be that we need to avoid creating a monopoly. Let’s find a model that best works to ensure the industry is sustainable.” — © 2018 NewsCentral Media