Spectrum responsibility shuffle on the cards

Minister of Communications Dina Pule has proposed the creation of a Spectrum Management Agency in an amendment bill gazetted on Wednesday, 18 July 2012.

The Ministry explained that the changes were to align radio frequency spectrum issues in Chapter 5 of the Act with the Cabinet-approved National Radio Frequency Spectrum Policy.

Overall responsibility for the country’s spectrum is to fall under a Spectrum Management Agency within the portfolio of the Minister of Communications. This is “as contemplated in the White Paper on Broadcasting Policy, 1998,” the Ministry said.

Dominic Cull, a telecommunications lawyer at Ellipsis Regulatory Solutions that specialises in regulatory issues in electronic communications law, explained that as things stand now the powers to deal with spectrum are split between the Minister and ICASA.

The Spectrum Management Agency would represent the Minister’s role in spectrum management issues. Minister Pule would have to bring a separate piece of legislation designed to create such an agency, Cull said.

Dominic Cull
Dominic Cull

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) which currently controls, manages, and licenses spectrum will end up just being responsible for licensing frequencies.

Tasks such as long term planning and finalising the national bandplan will fall to the Spectrum Management Agency, Cull said.

Asked whether he thought the establishment of a separate agency for spectrum management would be beneficial, Cull said that he wasn’t convinced.

He explained that there is still a lot of overlap between the Minister and ICASA, and that the responsibilities of each needs to be clearly defined.

A larger problem, Cull said, was that ICASA is struggling to discharge its responsibilities as it doesn’t have the necessary resources and manpower available to it.

“Will another body address these issues?” Cull asked. “Probably not.”

Cull added that the issues are complicated. While a lot of the proposals in the bill are well-intentioned, and are welcomed because they are well-intentioned, they will require a lot of thought and reflection to put in practice effectively.

The Minister has invited comment on the proposed bill which must be received in writing with 30 days of its publication in the gazette.

Dina Pule
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Spectrum responsibility shuffle on the cards