Siyabonga Cwele. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Siyabonga Cwele. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The Electronic Communications Amendment Bill is meant to transform the telecoms industry and grow the economy by attracting investment and innovation in the sector, says the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services.

But its critics disagree.

The department announced at the weekend that Telecommunications Minister Siyabonga Cwele had extended the deadline for public comments on the bill to January 31 2018, after receiving requests for extension from roleplayers.

The original deadline was November 17.

The department said that the bill gave effect to the National Integrated ICT Policy, which sought to attract investment and innovation.

Cwele said in the government gazette in November that the bill sought, among other goals, to address supply side challenges to transform SA into an inclusive, people-centred and developmental digital society.

"The white paper outlines government’s approach to providing … leadership and facilitating ... participation; interventions to reinforce fair competition and facilitate innovation.

"[As well as] in the converged environment; policies to protect the open internet … [and] to address the digital divide and new approaches to addressing supply side issues and infrastructure roll-out, including managing scarce resources," the minister wrote.

To enable implementation of the white paper, new legislation and amendments to existing legislation are required — one of which is the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill.

One of the contentious proposals in the bill is the establishment of a Wireless Open-Access Network, which, according to the department, aims to drive down the cost to communicate by facilitating the entrance of more players.

The government proposes in the bill that spectrum should be shared or pooled and made available to a new wholesale open-access network operator to be owned by any licensee interested in participating as an investor and shareholder.

Cwele has said the government wanted to see mobile carriers sharing infrastructure, similar to the way the industry operates in various other countries, such as Mexico.

Last week, the Cabinet also approved the framework for the establishment of a National Broadband Network Company.

It will be formed out of the merger of Sentech and Broadband Infraco.

This, according to Communications Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, will facilitate the roll-out of the interdependent elements in a co-ordinated manner and create a "national broadband champion".

MTN South Africa CEO Godfrey Motsa has said that the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill would discourage investment in the sector.

According to Shameel Joosub, Vodacom Group CEO, the bill did not address the industry’s urgent need to access available spectrum.

Cell C was yet to respond to request for comment.

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