ISPA calls on Government to Open up Communications Licensing

There is no reason under the Electronic Communications Act 36 of 2005 (ECA) why any qualifying telecoms market entrant cannot apply to the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) for an individual electronic communications service (IECS) licence or individual electronic communications network service (IECNS) licence. These are the licenses that any new fibre provider or ISP (Internet Service Provider) needs to be able to operate legally in South Africa.

SA’s economy is in need of an effective shot in the arm and the country’s Internet Service Providers’ Association of SA (ISPA) has written to the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies and ICASA expressing the opinion that facilitating greater market entry would boost competition and transformation.

Specifically, ISPA has requested that ‘the Minister give due consideration to issuing a policy direction as contemplated under section 3(2) read with section 5(6) of the ECA directing ICASA to issue an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for individual electronic communications network service (IECNS) licences.”

ISPA has also written separately to ICASA calling on the Authority to “issue a standing ITA for the issuing of an individual electronic communications service (IECS) licence to qualifying applicants under the Electronic Communications Act 36 of 2005 (ECA)”.

While no response to either communique has been received since October 2020, ISPA is hopeful that the current position where licences are transferred on the secondary market at often exorbitant prices will be replaced by a standing ITA that would allow qualifying applicants to approach ICASA directly for IECS and IECNS licences required for national service provision.

No new IECS or IECNS licences have been issued since 2010.

The restriction on the issuing of IECNS licences is a left-over from the policy of “managed liberalisation” – the idea that the telecommunications market would be slowly opened up to competition post-Telkom –  which is no longer of application. The 2014 amendment to the ECA expressly removed the words “managed liberalisation” from section 5(6) and there is nothing in the National ICT Policy White Paper which supports such a restriction.

The bulk issuing of more than 500 IECS and IECNS licence pairs in 2009 and 2010 removed any policy rationale for restricting the issuing of licences for the operation of electronic communications networks.

“The current situation creates artificial barriers to entry to an ICT market that is absolutely crucial for South Africa’s future growth and aspirations of being part of an inclusive fourth industrial revolution,” says Dominic Cull, ISPA’s regulatory advisor.

“ISPA believes that it would be easy to remove this obstacle to growing and transforming the industry and calls on the Minister and ICASA to take the necessary steps,” he concludes.

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