Press release: ICASA must put spectrum at the top of its agenda

Published on: 2009-07-22

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Telecoms regulator ICASA (Independent Communications Authority of SA) must urgently review and speed up the way that radio spectrum is assigned to electronic communications network service (ECNS) licensees for consumers to see more competition and lower prices in the broadband market.

That’s according to William Stucke of the Internet Service Providers’ Association of SA (ISPA). Access to spectrum now represents the single biggest obstacle to competitive participation in the telecoms marketplace, said Mr Stucke.

As such, ICASA needs to urgently put spectrum within the reach of the 300 or so new ECNS licensees so that they can build more network infrastructure. Without well-managed and interference-free spectrum, these service providers will be forced to lease capacity from existing operators rather than build their own networks.

Radio spectrum is a national resource, yet it isn’t managed as efficiently and as transparently as it could be. Evidence from North America and Europe suggests that even in urban areas, not much more than 10% of spectrum is in use, so one can reasonably suppose that even less spectrum is currently in use in South Africa. The problem is that there is no public database of spectrum assignment and usage.

Permanent assignment and the concept of ownership does not make sense if we keep in mind that spectrum is a national resource. There should at the very least be a “use it or lose it” policy to encourage efficient use. A model for secondary usage of spectrum may also improve efficiencies.

Mr Stucke said that ISPA favours a shared spectrum allocation model (also known as “Light Licensing”) for certain spectrum ranges. Light Licensing is a novel and progressive frequency allocation model where ECNS licensees would pay a relatively small fee for a nationwide, non-exclusive license.

The licensees then pay an additional nominal fee for each base station they deploy. All base stations must be clearly identifiable and in the event that these stations cause interference which cannot be mediated by technical means licensees are required to resolve the dispute between themselves.

ISPA will be working closely with its members and other industry bodies like the Wireless Access Providers’ Association (WAPA) and the Open Spectrum Alliance (OSA) to lobby ICASA and the Department of Communications to increase their focus on spectrum allocation assignment.

Open Spectrum Alliance partners currently include the ISPA, WAPA, The Shuttleworth Foundation and OSA is a grouping of parties with an interest in seeing more bits moving: wider network coverage, more connected citizens and more online transactions.

“It’s critical that we focus on this issue if we want to help the new ECNS licensees get off the ground so that they can increase competition, improve access and drive down costs for the benefit of the country’s telecom users,” Mr Stucke concluded.

The sooner the issues around spectrum allocation are addressed, the sooner our members can roll out networks that will enable them to offer innovative, affordable and high-quality broadband services to their customers.

Further Information

For further information, please contact the ISPA secretariat on the Contact ISPA page.