“The aim of the Electronic Communications Act (ECA) is for industry players to work and think in a converged manner as well as build multi-stakeholder partnerships,” says Dr Harold Wesso, Deputy Director-General of Policy Development at the Department of Communications.
Speaking at the recent Convergence Broadcast and Telecoms Summit, in partnership with the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA, Wesso defined convergence as the approach toward a definite value as time goes on, or to a definite point, a common view or opinion or toward a fixed or equilibrium state.
Convergence in the ECA is the intersection of broadcasting, telecommunications and networks. “Driving this convergence is the powerful discovery that all information – sound, pictures and raw data – can be converted into digital format and reincarnated intact somewhere else,” he says.
“This is a good Act and a step in the right direction. The objectives of the ECA are, first and foremost, the convergence of telecommunications, broadcasting and ITs, the development of interconnected electronic networks, investment and innovation, efficient use of radio frequency spectrum, empowerment of historically disadvantaged groups, but what is more important is the research and development factor in the ICT sector. We cannot speak of convergence without touching on the effect it will have on humans,” he says.
“The aim of ECA is also to create competition, provide a clear allocation of roles and assignment of tasks between policy formulation and regulation within the ICT sector. It is designed to promote SMMEs, protect the integrity and viability of public broadcasting services, promote interest of consumers and secure information as well as ensure information reliability,” he adds.
The ECA will provide the framework for convergence in SA. “Players in the current market structure of vertical technology-centric licence categories will face increased competition from new and different types of competitors in a horizontal technology neutral market structure,” he says.
Careful consideration needs to go into implementing the Act, which is the responsibility of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa). As a regulator, Icasa will be in charge of the Regulation Impact Assessment. The Department of Communication will implement the policy of the Regulation Impact Assessment.
Interconnection is a major element of the Act, with other issues such as the licensing framework, the electronic communication network and communications facilities, radio frequency spectrum, broadcasting services, numbering, competition matters, consumer issues as well as the Universal Service and Access Agency (USAASA) also affecting the Act.
“We also realise that the ICT industry is key to the development of the economy and country and that it will change rapidly due to developing technology. This Act will impact on policies, regulations, organisations and investment decisions as strategies evolve,” he says.
“We should ensure that the environment is created for ICTs to be harnessed for socio-economic development within the context of an emerging Information Society/Knowledge Economy,” he concludes.