Thabo signs telecoms bill

The long-awaited signing of the Electronic Communications Bill has finally taken place, paving the way for cheaper telecommunications services that South Africa desperately needs.

Acting communications director at the department of communications Albi Modise confirmed to Moneyweb that the bill was signed by President Thabo Mbeki earlier this week. However, the date on which it will become law has yet to be announced, he said.

“The proclamation process depends on interaction between the department of communications and the presidency. I unfortunately could not say whether it would be days or weeks before its proclaimed,” said Modise.

The next step would be for communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri to make her long-awaited policy directives, which are widely expected to deal with, among other things, the unbundling of the local loop (which basically means enabling competition on the last mile of equipment that links customers to the greater network).

Modise said that the minister is currently in Egypt and will return to South Africa over the weekend. “She’ll be back in the office by Monday,” he said.

Telecoms lawyer Janet MacKenzie of Cliffe Dekker Attorneys says that if properly implemented and regulated, the act will bring about more competition and thus lower prices for telecoms services.

“The general crux of the bill is that it will bring about the convergence of broadcasting and telecommunications. It will put in place a licensing framework that is technically neutral. In turn, this will result in the offering of a greater variety of new and innovative services.”

Ray Webber of the Communication Users Association of SA – an authoritative telecoms industry body – says that while Cuasa has not yet seen the act, its signing is great news: “We look forward to the date of implementation. This means there’s some movement again as far as convergence is concerned. We will need to go through it and see what is in there, though.”

Modise said he had not yet received any word on whether the Icasa Amendment Bill – which would govern the industry watchdog, the Independent Communications Authority of SA – has been signed.

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Thabo signs telecoms bill