Policy on High Demand Spectrum and Policy Direction on the Licensing of a Wireless Open Access Network
On 26 July 2019, the Minister of Communications issued the long-awaited Policy on High Demand Spectrum and Policy Direction ("Policy Direction") on the Licensing of a Wireless Open Access Network ("WOAN"). The Policy Direction paves the way for WOAN licensing. Although the Electronic Communications Act, 2005 does not have a license type for a WOAN, the Minister may direct ICASA to consider and accept applications for individual electronic communications network service ("IECNS") licenses from electronic communications network service licensees that provide WOAN services.
The Minister noted that it recognises that there are over 400 players who hold electronic communications network service licences, but cannot access spectrum due to its scarcity. The Minister noted further that this has had an adverse impact on competition, has contributed to the high cost of communicating and serves as a barrier for entry into the market, particularly for SMMEs. The Policy Direction emphasises the need for affordable access to wireless Internet and other telecom services throughout the country. The deployment of a WOAN will encourage licensees to work together and will result in more effective use of spectrum.
The Policy Direction states that ICASA must consider the assignment of spectrum within the following principles:
- On 700 MHz, to ensure preferential treatment of the WOAN;
- On 800 MHz, to ensure preferential treatment of the WOAN; and
- On 2600 MHz, to ensure preferential treatment of the WOAN.
ICASA must issue an invitation to apply (ITA) and accept and consider applications for an IECNS license for a WOAN. The following conditions must apply to the WOAN:
- must be a consortium of persons, at least 70% owned by South Africans;
- must include at least 30% equity ownership held by persons from historically disadvantaged groups;
- must include diversity of ownership to ensure meaningful participation of all entities involved, including SMMEs, and to prevent monopolistic behaviour;
- must include effective participation by targeted groups, including women, youth and persons with disabilities; and
- may include public entities as shareholders, provided that the WOAN may not be a public entity under the PFMA.
Should a member of the consortium applying for the WOAN already provide electronic communications services ("ECS"), functional separation will be required between such ECS and the member's participation in the WOAN.
The Competition Commission in its media statement, hailed the gazetting of Government's policy on high demand spectrum, saying that the development was a critical step toward realising lower data costs for South African consumers.
The Competition Commission noted that it will continue to engage with the spectrum licensing process, as this now moves to ICASA in terms of the design and execution of spectrum licensing in line with the policy directive. The Competition Commission stated that it "will specifically engage around how a spectrum licensing process may ensure not only universal coverage but also access, which requires a level of affordability and not just technical availability."
The Policy Direction directs ICASA to investigate and report to the Minister on the spectrum requirements for 5G. The report should be provided to the Minister within six months after the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference. The Minister will thereafter issue a separate policy direction on the 5G candidate bands.
GG42599-2019 NN397: Lifting of the Moratorium on Community Sound Broadcasting Licence Applications
On 26 July 2019, ICASA announced that the moratorium on applications for community broadcasting service licences and the necessary radio frequency spectrum has been lifted. The revised community broadcasting service regulations were published on 22 March 2019.
ICASA will consider applications for class community sound broadcasting service licences and radio frequency spectrum for purposes of providing a community broadcasting service in line with the New Community Broadcasting Framework. This entails, among other things, that the authority must publish an invitation for prospective applicants to submit a preregistration notice.
After a period of 90 days following the closure of this period, ICASA will inform any successful pre-registrant, at which time the successful registrant will be able to submit a formal application. ICASA will publish an invitation for prospective applicants to submit a pre-registration notice, as well as a list of available frequencies in each district and local municipality, within three months of publication of this notice, being 26 October 2019.
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