Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams will issue a policy direction to communications regulator Icasa within a month, allowing long-delayed broadband spectrum to be allocated to mobile operators, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his state of the nation address on Thursday evening.
Ndabeni-Abrahams had been expected to issue the policy direction to Icasa by the end of April, but at the last minute unexpectedly deferred it to after the 8 May general election.
Ramaphosa said in his speech that government intends ensuring “our legal and regulatory framework promotes innovation, scaling up skills development of young people, new technologies and reducing data costs”.
“Wherever we have gone, young people have continuously raised the issue of excessively high data costs in South Africa. They want data costs to go down,” the president said. “To provide impetus to this process, within the next month the minister of communications will issue the policy direction to Icasa to commence the spectrum licensing process,” he added to applause from MPs and guests in parliament.
“This process obviously will include measures to promote competition, transformation, inclusive growth of the sector and universal access. This is a vital part of bringing down the cost of data. We call on the telecommunications industry to bring down the cost of data so that it is in line with the pricing that prevails in other markets in the world.”
Ndabeni-Abrahams disappointed the sector when she missed her self-imposed 30 April deadline to publish the policy direction to Icasa.
Desperate for access
The minister, speaking through her spokeswoman, Nthabeleng Mokitimi-Dlamini, told TechCentral at the time that “following extensive consultations in this regard, the minister deemed it necessary to hold the policy direction on unassigned high-demand spectrum in abeyance for consideration in the sixth administration”.
South Africa’s mobile operators are desperate for access to new spectrum to continue rolling out their 4G/LTE networks (built using their 2G and 3G spectrum assignments) and to begin deployment of next-generation 5G technology.
South Africa’s operators have not received any new spectrum in the past 14 years, crimping their ability to roll out mobile broadband infrastructure and driving up their costs as they are forced to “densify” their networks in urban areas to cope with demand. MTN and Vodacom have said they will be able to cut mobile data prices meaningfully only after they get access to additional spectrum resources. — © 2019 NewsCentral Media