The Electronic Communications Amendment (ECA) Bill has been withdrawn by South Africa’s Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.
DA announced on Tuesday that Ndabeni-Abrahams has withdrawn the controversial ECA Bill that for three years pitted the Information Communications Technology (ICT) sector against the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS).
The bill dealt with the allocation of spectrum for mobile networks and the establishment of the WOAN (Wholesale Open Access Network), and was heavily criticised by the telecommunications industry.
The Minister made the announcement in today’s meeting of the parliamentary portfolio on Telecommunications and Postal Services.
Vodacom and Telkom said they welcomed the decision to withdraw the ECA Amendment Bill.
“Vodacom welcomes the decision by Communications Minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, to withdraw the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill,” said Shameel Joosub, Vodacom Group CEO.
He said that Vodacom is of the view that government’s objectives for the sector – in terms of increasing the affordability and reach of broadband and accelerating economic transformation – can be achieved within the current legislative framework.
“In particular, we are encouraged that the Ministry holds the view that the private sector must play a greater role in the development of the telecommunications industry.”
Key to ensuring that South Africa doesn’t get left behind in participating in the fourth industrial revolution is being at the forefront of new technologies such as 5G and the licensing thereof, said Joosub.
In his recent State Of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that significant progress had been made in crafting the path towards mobile spectrum allocation and that the Minister of Communications will shortly be issuing a policy direction to ICASA for the licensing of high demand spectrum.
“The release of this available spectrum will be instrumental in reducing the cost of carrying a megabyte of data and ultimately in accelerating the decline in effective data prices in South Africa,” said Joosub.
“We remain hopeful that the highly anticipated spectrum auction will take place soon.”
DA welcome Ndabeni-Abrahams emphasis on the proposed minimal role that government will play as it realises that the private sector is best able to drive telecommunications advances to the benefit of the entire nation.
She said the government will focus on regulatory and policy matters.
The DA, in committee, questioned the constitutionality of the Bill, its tagging in the parliamentary process, and was concerned about the vast chasm caused by DTPS’ attempts at “radically’ transforming the sector through emasculation of the Chapter Nine independence of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), the centralisation of regulation and power over the sector in the Minister and department, the legal establishment of an ostensibly private sector consortium Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) that would be handed prize high-demand spectrum, and the infringement on local governments’ operations in granting infrastructure build permissions.
“The withdrawal of the Bill is a defeat for former department officials who played a key role in crafting the ICT Policy White paper, starting in 2013, and its subsequent conversion into the Bill and who lobbied the portfolio committee during the public hearings for its acceptance,” said Marian Shinn MP – DA Shadow Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services.
“The DA looks forward to a more dynamic, investor friendly regulatory environment that promotes innovation and competition in both wholesale and retail ICT sectors to support the economic and social development needs of South Africa.”