ICASA will license 4G and 5G spectrum without the ECA Amendment Bill

ICASA “can and will proceed” with assigning 4G and 5G spectrum in South Africa, even though the amendment bill to the Electronic Communication Act has been withdrawn.

A spokesperson for the regulator told MyBroadband that ICASA welcomes the withdrawal of the bill and the commitment by the Minister of Telecommunications, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, to further consultation on the matter.

“In its presentation to Parliament on the bill, ICASA raised some concerns – particularly the impact of the bill on its independence, and the encroachment on its powers as regards control and management of radio frequency spectrum.”

Ndabeni-Abrahams withdrew the bill on Tuesday during her first session with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications.

She said that Parliament was unlikely to finalise the bill during the remainder of its term before the elections. As such, her ministry decided to withdraw it.

This will enable further consultations and allow amendments to be better aligned with the drive towards the 4th industrial revolution, Ndabeni-Abrahams said.

“We need a holistic, forward-looking approach instead of ad hoc amendments to the existing legislation.”

Cheaper, faster 4G networks

Among the changes the bill dealt with was the introduction of a wholesale open access network (WOAN), which was part of a larger debate on how scarce resources such as 4G and 5G spectrum should be assigned in South Africa.

The withdrawal of the bill until after the general elections in May 2019 therefore raises concerns that there will once again be delays in the allocation of high-demand spectrum to mobile network operators.

South Africa’s cellular networks have said that the release of spectrum will allow them to offer cheaper and faster mobile data services in the country, and must therefore happen immediately.

Siyabonga Cwele, the former Minister of Telecommunications, said in 2018 that the government will begin the process of assigning available 4G spectrum by April 2019.

This came after President Cyril Ramaphosa instructed Cwele to speed up his department’s decision on the allocation of critical radio frequency spectrum.

However, ICASA told MyBroadband that it “can and will” proceed with the licensing of spectrum, despite the withdrawal of the bill. All it needs is a finalised policy direction from Ndabeni-Abrahams.

ICASA explained that during September 2018, Cwele issued a draft policy directive for public comment regarding the licensing of high-demand spectrum.

“The final policy direction is expected to be issued soon,” ICASA said.

“In assigning high-demand spectrum, ICASA will consider and be guided by the said policy direction.”

Now read: Here it is – the spectrum breakdown for MTN and Vodacom in African countries

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ICASA will license 4G and 5G spectrum without the ECA Amendment Bill