MyBroadband recently published an article regarding a case between Telkom and the City of Cape Town, in which Telkom’s construction of a base station was declared unlawful.
Telkom had started erecting a cellphone mast on leased land without first complying fully with the relevant re-zoning procedures and giving notice to the city that it had started construction.
The operator argued that it was within its rights under the Electronic Communications Act to do so, and that the city was frustrating its rights by impeding the erection of the tower.
“Adherence to the by-laws will most certainly… make such activities more cumbersome and time consuming, which in turn most likely would, should this become the case, have a negative impact on service provision,” said Telkom.
Telkom had maintained that the erection of cellphone masts was not regulated by the by-laws concerned in this case.
Following the judgement against Telkom, MyBroadband spoke to Vodacom and MTN about their perspective on compliance with municipal zoning procedures.
Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy told MyBroadband it would not comment on rulings involving its competitors, but confirmed that it obtains all the necessary approvals from local municipal councils when erecting base stations.
“Vodacom won’t start erecting base stations until it has obtained all the necessary approvals from the relevant municipal council,” said Vodacom.
“In addition to receiving approval, we also embark on public participation processes as required by the council where residents are notified about our intention to erect a base station site in their area,” he said.
The public participation process involves a letter of notification sent to adjacent landowners and the ward councillor of the area.
Kennedy said municipalities often slow down the rate of infrastructure development due to regulation, however, but the company is working with councils to make these processes more efficient.
“The current municipal application process for the erection of telecommunications infrastructure takes 1-2 years, or even longer, thereby prohibiting the acceleration of infrastructure rollout,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy said network providers should be given more control in consultation processes, and the process should be shortened to allow for the acceleration of infrastructure expansion.
“However, the adherence to by-laws and other regulations is paramount.”
MTN executive for corporate affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan said MTN works to comply with municipal by-laws when building infrastructure across the country, including public participation processes.
“As a responsible and transparent corporate citizen, we strive to meet the needs and concerns of the various communities within which we operate,” said O’Sullivan.
“Delays in the necessary approvals can hamper delivery, but we continue to work closely with all required authorities.”
O’Sullivan said South Africa does not have standardised guidelines relating to telecommunications network infrastructure, so each area is managed in accordance with local requirements.
This means engagement with residents and local councils is critical for the successful development of infrastructure in an area.
“The ongoing demand for spectrum is also an important consideration in this discussion,” said O’Sullivan.
“The release of spectrum will create much-needed capacity while using existing infrastructure.”