The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) has published its definition of what exactly constitutes an underserviced area. The definition is important because government has set universal service targets and obligations that operators are legally bound to meet.
An underserviced area is any area with a local or district municipality in which “no electronic communications network has been constructed” or those where an electronic communications network exists but coverage of the inhabited parts of the area fall below the national average.
It also includes those with infrastructure where limited or no services are being provided over that infrastructure.
Icasa has released two lists of what it considers underserviced areas under the definition, the first dealing with electronic communications network services, and the other with broadcasting services. These were published on Monday in the Government Gazette and the definition is effective immediately.
Icasa spokesman Paseka Maleka explains that broadcasters and telecommunications operators have long had universal service obligations but these were formulated during the licensing process. As there was no fixed definition of an underserviced area, Icasa relied on operators to assist with deciding the extent of these obligations.
Service providers will now be forced to consider all listed areas, and not only the ones that suit them.
Maleka says the definition of “underserviced” will be dynamic. If an area is improved, it ceases to be underserviced. Conversely, one where services decline could be reclassified as being underserviced. Icasa intends to revise and update the list every two to three years.
Icasa will revisit operators’ licence agreements to ensure they continue to meet the obligations laid out at the time of licensing. “The authority will consult with service providers individually,” Maleka says.
In coming up with the regulations for defining underserviced areas, Icasa opted to use district and local municipalities to determine which communication services are not provided. It says it would have proved difficult to limit certain communications services – such as broadcasting – to ward level because of the scope of coverage which, under normal circumstances, covers the whole district or local municipality.
All existing obligations still apply to licensees. — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media