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The Independent Communication Authority (ICASA) alongside South African technology and information organisations such as Vodacom Business, CISCO, Nexio and Dell Technologies, gathered to commemorate the World Technology and Information Society (WTIS) Day 2022 on Tuesday.

The purpose of the virtual gathering hosted by Tech-Talk was to celebrate WTIS Day 2022 and help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other ICT can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide. The WTISD, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly 53 years ago marks the anniversary of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention and the creation of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Giving his keynote address during the event in support of the WTIS, Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng, Chairperson for ICASA shared his views and regulatory positions in relation to the state of ICT in South Africa. Above all, to shared the organisations view in respect of the World Telecommunications and Information Society Day.

Dr Modimoeng said: “Today is a very important day in the ICT environment, WTIS, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly 53 years ago, the purpose of which is to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other ICT can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.

“As a country, and the regulator of the sector, we are indeed joining the global community in commemorating this historic day. It is a reminder of our mandate of ensuring that all South Africans have access to a wide range of communication services at affordable prices; and the theme for this year’s WTIS (Digital technologies for older persons and healthy ageing) resonates well with our vision and the commitment we have made to government of ensuring the building of an inclusive digital society.”

Dr Modimoeng also pointed out that as part of the commemoration, the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Ms Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, was launching DigiTech – a platform for digital products/applications developed by SMMEs, which also serves as a digital distribution service, operated, and maintained by the government.

Speaking on Spectrum auction and licensing, Dr Modimoeng shared that the regulator has made great strides in delivering on the critical mandate and continue to work hard in bridging the digital divide.

“Yes, we have a lot more to do, however, we have witnessed a lot of developments in the recent past. The most notable highlight is the successful conclusion of the much-anticipated high-demand radio frequency spectrum auction. The auction involved six qualified bidders, i.e. Cell C, Liquid Intelligent Technologies, MTN, Rain Networks, Telkom and Vodacom.

The revenue collected from this auction totaled more than R14.4 billion for the national fiscus. This is the total amount generated from the Opt-In phase auction, which took place on 8 March 2022, and the main auction which took place soon thereafter. This was our inaugural radio frequency spectrum auction, and we are grateful to have reached this stage without any hassles and challenges until we concluded it on 17 March 2022.

We all know that the auctioning of the spectrum was an uphill legal battle, with litigation from all corners but we eventually found each other with the litigants,” said Dr Modimoeng.

Following the settlement agreement reached with Telkom last month, he said the Authority undertook to issue an Information Memorandum (IM) by no later than 30 June 2022 for consultation and eventually to licence:

  • the unsold sub-1 GHz Lot from the International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) spectrum auction, and
  • any other IMT spectrum that is presently available for licensing except for the spectrum currently set-aside for the Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN).
  • In terms of the aforesaid IM, the Authority will consider the spectrum holdings emanating from the inaugural auction, including the imbalances in the sub-1 GHz bands, and the impact of the outcome of the auction on competition in the mobile market. This licensing process is earmarked for conclusion by the end of March 2023.

On Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN), Dr Modimoeng said that the Authority remains committed to ensuring transparency in the licensing process of issuing the Individual Electronic Communications Network Service (I-ECNS) and Radio Frequency Spectrum licences for the purpose of operating a Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN).

“The Authority is mindful and conscious of the Government’s plans relating to the amendment of the Policy Direction on the licensing of the Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN).  The Authority had already started the process of revisiting the WOAN and its related business case and will consider the government’s position on this matter and fully participate in the related processes. It is also working hard to engage with other international jurisdictions to enhance our knowledge and develop a holistic approach to the WOAN process,” said Dr Modimoeng.

He says this is important because it will provide a clearer guidance in terms of how effective and economical the licensing process will be, as the Authority will be introduce an additional credible player with a view to promote competition in the ICT sector for the benefit of all South Africans.

In terms of cost to communicate, Dr Modimoeng shared that the cost of data and the general cost to communicate value chain, remains top of the agenda for ICASA. With the spectrum having been auctioned, he said they expect greater coverage, reliable connection, faster internet speed, quality of service and quality of experience for consumers, and above all, lower cost of data services.

Dr Modimoeng shared that the Authority has also commenced the consultation process to review the pro-consumer regulations – The End-User and Subscriber Service Charter Regulations.

One of the most notable proposals is the period for the expiry of data. The Authority proposes to remove the issue of data rollover in its entirety, and to provide for unused voice and or SMS services, obtained through either prepaid or post-paid channels, not to expire before a period of 6 months, except for promotional packages.

Dr Modimoeng says the six-month period aligns with the current numbering plan practice, considering the 90-day minimum period during which a number is deemed to remain active, plus a further 90-day period applied by licensees before recycling the number assigned to a SIM card.

“The proposed amendments were necessitated by general concerns raised by various stakeholders, including consumer groups and social media campaigns, with regards to data expiry rules, high out-of-bundle rates, and out-of-bundle voice and SMS rules currently applied by licensees. The amendments will strengthen the provision of quality of service for electronic communication services, and to add new regulations on voice, SMS and data services.

Dr Modimoeng says the Authority is urging all stakeholders to fully participate in all the consultative processes that it usually opens and when they do, they must ensure that they cover all issues of interest for the Authority to consider.

“Let us remain patriotic and committed to ensuring that we indeed bridge the digital divide and build the inclusive digital and economic society within our country,” he concluded.