The Electronic Communications Bill, proposed new legislation that will transform SA’s telecommunications industry, should be signed into law before the end of April, a month later than originally expected.

The delay means that plans by communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri to announce a dramatic liberalisation of the sector – initially expected before the end of March – have been put on ice for now. Matsepe-Casaburri must make her determinations in terms of the new legislation, which will replace the Telecommunications Act and other laws.

The department’s director-general Lyndall Shope-Mafole says the minister will announce the policy changes as soon as the Electronic Communications Bill has been signed into law.

The minister’s policy determinations are expected to be wide-ranging and have a dramatic impact on the level of competition in the sector.

It is expected that government will announce plans to unbundle the "local loop", giving the second network operator, and possibly other companies, access to Telkom’s telephone exchanges, allowing them to serve consumers directly.

Government is also expected to give Sentech, the state-owned broadcasting signal distributor, the right to provide switched voice traffic on its infrastructure, effectively making it a full-blown telecom operator.

A move to declare the Sat-3/Wasc/Safe submarine telecom cable, which links SA with the world, an essential service is also rumoured to be on the cards.

This move, which Telkom is likely to oppose, could have the effect of dramatically lowering international bandwidth prices.

Shope-Mafole says she does not expect the state law advisers to raise any significant objections to the bill.

The controversial Icasa Amendment Bill, linked to the Electronic Communications Bill, could be more sticky. The opposition Democratic Alliance has warned that the amendment bill, which seeks to change the way the Independent Communications Authority of SA is governed, is unconstitutional as it undermines Icasa’s status as an independent, chapter 9 institution.

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Source: Financial Mail

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