Withholding ICASA’s quarterly funding, withdrawing the draft ECA Amendment Bill and negating on the promise to publish a revised communications policy by 30 April are turning plans for South Africa’s broadband and communications for all in disarray.
After ICASA told South Africa on Tuesday (29 April) that it would take the Minister of Communications to the High Court in Pretoria to compel the Department of Communications to transfer the funds that ICASA is entitled to, the Department released the funds. Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams withheld the funds because she said she had not approved ICASA’s Annual Performance Plan.
ICASA claimed that it is not within the Minister’s mandate to approve or disapprove the plan, but the Minister still maintains it is.
While nobody can confirm what the issue is, ICASA’s acting chairperson, Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng, suspects it is about the inclusion of a 5G spectrum plan.
Soon after the State of the Nation address and the Finance budget speeches, which both included statements that the release of spectrum for broadband would be a priority, the newly-appointed Minister of Communication informed the Portfolio committee that, given the fact that Parliament was unlikely to finalise the ECA Amendment Bill during the remainder of the current term, it was her decision to withdraw it so as to enable further consultations and to align it with the drive towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The Minister concluded by emphasising that “we need a holistic forward-looking approach instead of ad-hoc amendments to the existing legislation.”
Did the industry misread the Minister’s intention? From comments the Minister made while on a community outreach campaign in the Eastern Cape, it appears that the contested Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) is still high on the agenda despite persistent assertion by industry that the concept has not proved successful anywhere in the world and was discarded by most major communication agencies.
So, we are back to square one! About a new communications plan, the Minister said it will only be released after the election and the inauguration of the Sixth South African Government. The question is now, will Thembisile Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams not be the Minister of Communication in the next to be elected government? This is a topsy-turvy situation which is likely to lead to more delays.
The #DataMustFall cry has become louder and is gaining support. The quickest solution is to release more spectrum which will remove the barrier which industry claims keeps data cost high. Does the DoC not understand this or does the department have other plans? Whatever they are, it is now beyond just urgent!