On 23 June 2023, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies in South Africa published the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill 2023 for public comment. Significant amendments have been proposed; informed by the Data Services Market Inquiry of 2019 undertaken by the Competition Commission. The inquiry concluded that data prices were excessive and that limited competition in the market impeded communication and access to information. During this period, the consumer-driven “data must fall” movement became omnipresent as a signal for discontent with the high data prices.
Objectives of the Bill
The Amendment Bill introduces substantial, new reforms to South Africa’s communications industry by empowering the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) – the regulatory authority – to regulate and enforce competition issues and makes provision for a new licence category for electronic communications facilities services, targeting tower companies.
Potential implications for telecommunication companies
- A new licensing provision: the intended outcome is to bring electronic communications facility service providers, such as tower companies, within the licensing framework of the Act. These facility service providers will be subjected to wholesale regulations and compliance with licensing conditions imposed by the Act.
- Standard draft by-law: This amendment proposes a uniform wayleave process where deployment of electronic communications networks and facilities for a tenant will have to be done through a mutual agreement with the landlord based on rapid deployment at municipal level.
- Radio Spectrum sharing: This amendment enables ICASA to amend any spectrum license where a licensee has failed to use their allocated spectrum adequately for a period of two years in any under-serviced areas, to allow spectrum sharing (the “use it or share it” principle) with other licensees. Additionally, the amendment approves any sharing of “high demand spectrum”.
- Roaming and MVNO services: An electronic communications network service licensee with access to International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) radio frequency spectrum, with national network coverage of 90% of the population, will be compelled to provide roaming and MVNO services.
- Facilities leasing framework: According to this Bill, licensees will now be regulated and must lease facilities. Another amendment proposed is the replacement of the reasonability test for access with principles of access, which will be prescribed by ICASA.
Interested companies are urged to submit their respective comments by 4 August 2023.
Access Partnership closely monitors digital and tech legislative developments across the globe. Should you wish to engage with this consultation process or gain insights into regulatory and policy developments in the tech and digital space in South Africa, the African continent, or globally at the International Telecommunications Union, please contact Wydeman Coetzee at [email protected] and Jan Magoro at [email protected].