SA: Government, ICT stakeholders talk spectrum licensing

Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams and her Deputy, Pinky Kekana on Tuesday met with captains of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry, to finalise consultations on their interpretation of the spectrum licensing process as defined by the law.

The meeting follows on the written submissions previously made by the sector on the matter.

Licensing of high-demand spectrum is deemed necessary to lessen resource constraints experienced by incumbent mobile operators, enable transformation of a historically vertically integrated market, level the playing field and enable new entrants into the market.

Further, it will contribute to reducing the cost to communicate and drive universal services and access.

Addressing the meeting, Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams said while stakeholders might not agree on all aspects as contained in the Electronic Communications Act (ECA), they must strive to find consensus that ensures that high demand spectrum is eventually licensed.

“Since the advent of mobile broadband, spectrum has turned out to be both a competitive and an anti-competitive tool for incumbent network operators and a barrier to entry for new entrants.

“Some spectrum lies un-utilised or underutilised in time or space and we would like to change that by making sure that spectrum is effectively and efficiently licensed in order to address not only revenue generation, but to also ensure inclusive participation,” Ndabeni-Abrahams said.

The meeting agreed that the spectrum policy directive and licencing processes must be swiftly finalised as they will propel the industry forward as well as enable effective delivery of the Fourth Industrial Revolution imperatives that require wireless networks as connectivity enablers.

Further, common ground should be reached between the policymakers and the regulator to ensure the process is concluded and spectrum is duly allocated timeously.

Kekana emphasised the importance of the process as pronounced by both President Cyril Ramaphosa and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in the 2019 State of the Nation Address and Budget Speech respectively.

Ndabeni-Abrahams concluded the engagement by highlighting that government cannot be excluded from this important process of spectrum licensing given the strategic implications of spectrum not only in the sector but in the economy as a whole.

Further, the licensing of high demand spectrum is the main catalyst for the digital economy.

The final policy directive on spectrum allocation will be issued by end of April 2019.