On 26 July 2019, the Minister of Communications and Digital Technology (the Minister) issued the Policy on High Demand Spectrum and Policy Direction on the Licensing of a Wireless Open Access Network (the Policy Direction), published in terms of the Electronic Communications Act 36 of 2005.
As set out in the background to the document, this was informed by considerations of the public interest and relevant policy objectives, including:
- To ensure the sustainability and future capability of the Wholesale Open Access Network (WOAN), including incentivising it.
- To promote the universal provision of electronic communications networks and services, as well as connectivity, for all.
- To ensure broadband coverage in rural and under-served areas.
- To encourage investment, including strategic infrastructure investment, with predictability and certainty for investors and users.
- To maximise the efficient use of the radio frequency spectrum.
- To promote competition within the ICT sector, with an emphasis on service-based competition through the WOAN.
- To promote an environment of open, fair and non-discriminatory access to electronic communications networks and to electronic communications services.
- To promote the empowerment of historically disadvantaged individuals, in particular women, youth and persons with disabilities.
- To ensure that electronic communications services, viewed collectively, are provided by persons or groups of persons from a diverse range of communities.
- To promote the interests of consumers with regard to the price, quality and the variety of electronic communications services.
- To develop and promote small, medium and micro-enterprises and cooperatives.
With respect to the Policy on High Demand Spectrum, it was noted that the scarcity of spectrum has had an adverse effect on competition and contributed to high data costs. The deployment of the WOAN is intended to facilitate a shared approach to spectrum and encourage licensees to work together. Simultaneous spectrum-assignment processes will commence assigning high-demand spectrum to the WOAN and to other electronic communications network service licensees. The Policy further sets out the principles to apply to operators that have already been assigned high-demand spectrum.
With respect to the Policy Direction on the Licensing of a WOAN, it provides that the WOAN is an important policy instrument to lower barriers to entry for smaller players, improve ownership in the ICT sector by historically disadvantaged individuals, and promote service-based competition. The Policy Direction sets out the conditions that must be applied to the WOAN, and further directs the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), among other things, to invite applications for an individual electronic communications network service license for the WOAN, and consider certain stipulated terms, conditions and incentives.
The Policy on High Demand Spectrum and Policy Direction on the Licensing of a Wireless Open Access Network is accessible (via Ellipsis) here.
Please note: The information contained in this note is for general guidance on matters of interest, and does not constitute legal advice. For any enquiries, please contact us at [email protected].