Spectrum trading on the cards for South Africa

The latest draft amendments to the the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill include a move to allow spectrum trading.

The 2013 Electronic Communications Amendment Bill was introduced into Parliament in order to address the deficiencies and vagaries of some difficult to implement or ineffective provisions of the Electronic Communications Act 26 of 2005.

The ICASA Act – which governs and regulates ICASA and its roles – is also being amended at the same time to ensure consistent legislation applicable to the entire sector.

Regulatory consultancy firm, Ellipsis Regulatory Solutions, provided an overview of the latest draft amendments. The full overview can be found on Ellipsis’ website.

Spectrum trading

“One of the most welcome provisions of the Bill relates to reiterating that the letting, sub-letting, ceding, sharing or transferring of radio frequency spectrum licences is permissible, subject to any conditions that ICASA may determine to be appropriate in the course of approving assignment, cession or transfer of spectrum,” Ellipsis said.

“It follows that ICASA will be required to draft appropriate regulations governing the terms and conditions applicable to letting / sub-letting / transfer of spectrum licences, including an application form.”

According to Ellipsis, ICASA is already in a position to draft the required regulations, but it has previously shied away from doing so.

“Hopefully the proposed amendment will provide a spur to this happening: introducing secondary trading in spectrum is probably one of the most critical short-term interventions that can be made to introduce greater efficiencies into the use of spectrum in South Africa.”

The Bill also proposes that ICASA must speed up the turnaround time of notifying spectrum licence applicants of its decisions. This, should be done within 60 business days of receipt of an application.

“We welcome the majority of the proposed amendments and the intention behind them. It seems unlikely, however, that the Bill will be finalised during 2013, particularly given the looming 2014 elections,” Ellipsis said.

Dominic Cull
Dominic Cull

Double-edged sword

Another change previously proposed by the amendment bill was to limit the hard-won self-provisioning rights of South African network operators.

At the time, Dominic Cull at Ellipsis said that this part of the proposed amendment is bound to be contentious, and that the problem the Minister sought to address is better dealt with through the existing rapid deployment guidelines and by completing the work set out in the original ECA.

The fact that there are no rules around open access, infrastructure sharing, or co-ordination between operators is a failure on the part of both the Department of Communications and ICASA, Cull said.

Cull added that it is legally problematic to take away rights that licensees currently enjoy through an amendment.

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Spectrum trading on the cards for South Africa