Government monopoly on cellular networks is a bad idea – ICASA

ICASA has said that a single wholesale open access network (WOAN) is potentially problematic.

ICASA was addressing the Department of Telecommunications at a workshop on proposed amendments to the Electronic Communications Act.

“The ECA Amendment Bill proposes that unassigned high-demand spectrum must be assigned to the WOAN, following a policy direction issued by the minister,” said ICASA.

This proposes the creation of a government-sanctioned monopoly, which is contrary to the principles of fair competition and will negatively impact the stimulation of investment and technological advancement in South Africa, it added.

ICASA recommended that alternatives to the WOAN, such as infrastructure sharing to increase coverage in South Africa, be considered.

The regulator said there is merit in the WOAN, adding that it made provision for one in its recent invitation to apply (ITA) for high-demand spectrum.

The ITA was postponed after the government took legal action against ICASA.

ICASA said the WOAN model chosen must not undermine fair competition in the industry, however.

It warned that the provisions in the ECA Amendment Bill requiring mobile operators to give back their existing spectrum could also amount to expropriation.

Mobile network spectrum licences are set to run until 2028.

ICASA’s independence

ICASA further warned that the proposed changes to the ECA could undermine its independence, and the institution’s independence should be guarded.

The amendments also suggest that a new regulator be established to plan, manage, and control radio frequency spectrum assignments in South Africa.

This proposed dilution of ICASA’s role is inconsistent with international best practice, it said.

It may cause South Africa to fall foul of its international commitments to organisations like the World Trade Organisation, as well as South Africa’s constitution.

“ICASA should continue to plan, manage, and control spectrum,” it said.

Now read: High mobile data prices – Operators respond

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Government monopoly on cellular networks is a bad idea – ICASA