Undersea cable guidelines causing a stir

The Department of Communication (DoC) recently presented its policy guidelines regarding the ‘Rapid Deployment of Electronic Communications Facilities’ to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee (PPC).

Ms Mashile Matlala, Senior Manager for Telecommunications Policy, gave an overview of how government was going to deal with the processes involved with rapid deployment of electronic communications facilities.  Matlala discussed, among other things, guidelines regarding the landing and operations of undersea cable systems.

According to the DoC’s guidelines ‘all under sea cables are to be landed or operated with the authorization by the Minister’, and this authorization will not be transferable.

The qualification criteria for granting of authorization by the minister were broken up into three basic guidelines:

  • Only individual electronic communications network service licensees are eligible
  • A combined equity ownership can be held individually or jointly with other African entities which must have an equal to or greater than 51% shareholding
  • Individual electronic communications network service licensees may file the application together if each owns less than 51% to meet the criteria if both South Africans

Details of these applications will be published in the Government Gazette, after which the Minister will consult with other relevant structures of government, such as DEAT, National Security and others before making a decision on the matter.

The DoC said that the guidelines are ‘now ready to be published for public comment’.

DoC and PPC at odds

The Democratic Alliance’s Dene Smuts questioned the need for drafting new guidelines and asked why ‘these hurdles were being instituted.’

“By allowing the Minister to determine licensing, it appeared that the DoC was trying to create a role for the Minister to give authorization in order to scrutinize adherence to African equity or ownership under the NEPAD broadband protocol,” said Smuts.

Deputy Minister of Communications Mr Padayachie explained that the landing of cables in South African territory had security implications and that due to this, discretionary ministerial authority was being utilized.

Mr Pieterse (ANC) further said there is a clear conflict of interest as in that the Minister was also overseeing the NEPAD cable and was responsible for the revocation of licenses for other cable operators.

Mr Swart (DA) stated that the Minister needed to be empowered by legislation to derive authorization capability.  He asked the DoC what exactly the legislation was, and added that the Minister could only make regulations.

Mr Kholwane (ANC) said that if the DoC did not provide a proper presentation on the relevant material then they needed to be held accountable and not humoured. “The DoC was undermining the Committee,” said Kholwane.

Immediate answers to all the questions raised by the committee were ‘not possible as the DoC delegation was not sufficiently prepared to answer their questions.’  The meeting was hence re-scheduled to address these issues.

Telecoms regulatory expert Dominic Cull of Nicciferguson Inc. welcomed the assertion of independence by the PPC. “It has been evident for some time that the Department does not have a clear policy strategy, resulting in implementation which is often muddled or simply missing.”

“The ongoing uncertainty about landing rights and ownership levels is a case in point, as is the failure of the Minister to follow through on her SAT3 liberalisation policy directive which called for an end to Telkom’s monopoly on 1 November 2007.”

“Hopefully the PPC can play a constructive role in bringing affordable international bandwidth to the people of SA.”

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Undersea cable guidelines causing a stir