The Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Siyabonga Cwele, recently announced that cabinet had approved the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper.
Cwele said the approval paved the way for the start of a programme that will amend laws and set up new structures and institutions.
The paper calls for radical changes in the telecommunications market, including the creation of a Wireless Open Access Network (OAN).
All unassigned high-demand spectrum – essentially LTE spectrum – will be set aside for the OAN.
The paper also paved the way for the government to take back spectrum which the mobile operators – Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, and Telkom – use for their networks.
It places the onus on ICASA to determine the time frames and terms and conditions for exclusively and individually-assigned spectrum to be returned.
This has raised massive concern among industry players, who warned that the government is playing a dangerous game – one which could seriously damage the country’s telecommunications market.
Many are predicting legal challenges to the new policy should it be implemented in its current form.
What the mobile operators say
The mobile operators were hesitant to provide detailed comment on the white paper, as the fight may end up in the courts.
Here is what they had to say:
- Telkom: Telkom welcomes Cabinet’s approval of the ICT Policy White Paper. Telkom trusts that the policy will create regulatory certainty in the sector, promote effective competition, and facilitate the attainment of universal access to affordable broadband services. Telkom will analyse the Policy when it is published and will only then be in a position to comment on specific proposals
- Vodacom: Vodacom is aware that Cabinet has approved the National Integrated Information Communication Policy White Paper. We will review the document and are not in a position to comment on the matter at this stage.
- MTN: MTN has noted the release of the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper by the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services. MTN is studying the document and will make a comment after it has applied its mind on its implications on the ICT sector.
- Cell C: We are in the process of reviewing the white paper.
Blue Label: More players needed
Mark Levy, joint-CEO of Blue Label Telecoms – which is buying a 45% stake in Cell C – said he believes the government wants to create a fair playing field through the ICT White Paper.
“There is no use in just strengthening the big guys in the marketplace,” said Levy.
He said the government must find a model where you can enable the smaller operators to get access to spectrum to be able to deliver cheaper voice and data products.
This is necessary, said Levy, to avoid a situation where there is a monopolistic control by a few large operators.
“To create a competitive environment, you have to allow more people to play in the game.”