Within two days of the closing date for submissions commenting on the draft International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) roadmap, Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) issued the schedule of public hearings, held on 9 and 10 October 2014.
Chaired by outdoing councillor Marcia Socikwa, it soon became clear that the ICASA staff had done their homework. On several occasions Councillor Socikwa pointed presenters to contradictions between their written and oral presentations.
As can be expected from such hearings, every contender for frequency spectrum put their own case forward, with little common ground. It was also significant that most mobile operators were against the concept of one large public private partnership provider of a national broadband pipe for operators to offer their services. The idea was first mooted some years ago by the then Cell C CEO Alan Knott-Craig. Now Cell C expressed strong objections to the idea.
Several operators questioned why Telkom was allowed to convert its fixed point to point licence for 60 MHz in the 2,3 GHz band to mobile broadband operation. This question was also raised at the recently held WAPA broadband forum where Telkom clarified that in terms of its licence it was not restricted.
There was a call for Telkom to relinquish the spectrum and for ICASA to reallocate it. ICASA did not specifically comment on the issue. Telkom is currently using its 60 MHz allocation for the rollout of long term evolution (LTE) in metropolitan areas.
From discussions it was also quite clear that the industry is unhappy that the policy promised by government for release in March this year is only now – according to the minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Siyabonga Cwele – going to be ready in the March 2015 time frame.
Somehow we are losing the plot. If spectrum is a national resource surely it is not for government to make the policy but rather for government to consult with stakeholders who should guide the policy? The previous minister, Yunus Carrim, went through that process – so what’s the problem now?
In a lighter moment,when MTN discussed the cost of having to send engineers to base stations to effect changes, the chairman said she did not see a problem as MTN, throughout the presentation, had repeatedly been referred to as a green company; so they could save travel costs by using bicycles to go from base station to base station!
The chairperson of ICASA, Dr. Stephen Mncube, said he was living on borrowed time. Presumably indicating that as his term as chairperson will end in two or so years, he would like processes to speed up.
He said that he was happy with the progress made in recent times and complimented the chairman of the meeting and her staff on the excellent work done in preparing South Africa for a healthier broadband future.
Referring to the National Development Plan and ICT he said that in terms of the provision of broadband for all, BEE companies have not come to the party with a workable solution, and that it is now up to industry to come up with a workable plan.
He also referred to ICASA’s financial position. He said that the Authority was financially embarrassed, hence the large number of unfilled vacancies.
In previous articles EngineerIT has often asked why the ICASA funding model is based on a handout from the Treasury instead of allowing the Authority to fund itself from licence fees. If ICASA is truly independent it should not have to go cap in hand to the Department of Communications, or Department of Telecommunication and Postal services.
Here is another area of confusion: ICASA reports to the Department of Communication yet the ICASA chairperson is accompanying Minister Cwele to Korea later this week to attend the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference 2014.
This conference is the ITU’s top policy-making body that sets the general policies of the organisation for the next four years. The various officials are also elected at this meeting. South Africa has not put forward any candidates.
If our readers are confused, so are we. It is however a positive move for ICASA to be attending the ITU meeting.