In August 2012 the Department of Communications (DoC) published the Electronic Communications Amendment (ECA) Bill 2012 with the aim of creating a parallel organisation that will be responsible for the management of the radio spectrum. The Bill proposes a sizeable structure to manage what everyone understood to be the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA)’s role. So if the amendments are accepted and the Bill becomes law, more money will have to be allocated to the DoC.
It is ironic that the ministry believes that it can afford to finance the creation of a parallel organisation as it is currently throttling the funds made available to ICASA to do its job. The other question that arises is: “Does the ministry have a different meaning for the word ‘independent’ than its definition in the new Penguin English dictionary: Not affiliated with a larger controlling unit?”
If ICASA was truly an independent agency and was funded correctly, it would be staffed at the right level and with the appropriate expertise. Now when ICASA employees build up experience they are lured away to industry, with more benefits and higher salaries.
She said, “We want the policies to deliver our progressive goals of achieving universal access to broadband much faster. To this end, we have invited nominees to serve on the ICT policy panel of experts, a group that will work with the department to provide policy recommendations.
Nominations for the panel had to be submitted by 30 June 2012.
Clearly the ICT policy review panel was the minister’s response to wide-ranging criticism of the current policy and the poor handling of frequency spectrum management by ICASA. At the April 2012 Colloquium, industry strongly voiced its opposition to government’s approach.
But if nominations for the panel closed on 30 June, how was it possible for the ministry to gazette the ECA Bill 2012 at the end of July? It could not have been based on input from the panel as its members do not seem to have been appointed yet. If they were, it must have been hush-hush as at the time of publication there was no mention of the names of panel members on the DoC website.
Is DoC trying to beat ICASA to the post? Maybe ICASA had a wake-up call and beat the minister to it! ICASA has put a lot of effort into the 124-page document, it would be a shame if all the work is ignored and the process started all over again by the new spectrum management agency.
MTN CEO, Karel Pienaar, said at the Indaba in June, “Spectrum allocation needs to be done immediately and allocations must not be fragmented. Governments should not try to artificially increase competition through licensing.
“There are many examples in Europe of how this has not worked. Instead, they should facilitate e-skills, planning, and local content support. State-owned enterprises should be encouraged to tender with the private sector for ICT expansion initiatives.”
I believe that the sentiments expressed by Pienaar reflect how the South African communications industry feels about the issue.