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ACT calls for action on loadshedding, mobile operators battle to stay connected

Telecommunications towers

Photo by Creamer Media

18th May 2023

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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The Association of Comms and Technology (ACT) is calling for urgent regulatory and government action on the loadshedding crisis in South Africa, fearing that the impact on an already hard-hit information and communication technology (ICT) sector will worsen during the colder months, when, invariably, loadshedding is more severe.

Following State-owned power utility Eskom’s announcement of Stage 6 loadshedding earlier this week following the failure of two generating units, ACT, in a media statement issued late on Wednesday, expressed deep concern about the worsening status of loadshedding in South Africa.

“Heightened and sustained levels of loadshedding in recent times have already resulted in a record quantum of energy shed by South Africa’s power utility Eskom in a calendar year – and we are yet to reach halfway through 2023,” the industry association said in the statement.

“As an industry association, we call on all relevant authorities to take urgent and decisive action.”

The more severe loadshedding expected during the winter months will make it increasingly difficult for mobile network operators to keep people and businesses connected.

This is despite the significant investments into back-up power solutions to improve network resilience during loadshedding – investments, the ACT said, that could have been better spent on accelerating rural coverage, fast-tracking fifth-generation adoption and further addressing the cost to communicate in South Africa.

“So that further funds are not diverted from their intended purpose, it is crucial that the government and regulators take immediate and effective action to address the power crisis, network security as well as the issue of economic sabotage of physical infrastructure by outlining a comprehensive plan to address the problem.”

The association outlined several steps that can be taken to mitigate the effects of loadshedding on the sector and economy, including the consideration of a diesel rebate to ensure that the high cost of diesel does not unduly burden the sector's commercial operations.

“Our members have been forced to reallocate their yearly expenditure to deal with loadshedding, which is unsustainable in the long term given the high cost of diesel,” it explained.

Further, there is a need for the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition to urgently publish the block exemption regulations to allow competitors to coordinate on finding solutions to the loadshedding crisis, such as collaborating on using common power sources and sharing security on co-located sites.

Other steps include designating the industry in terms of The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act 8 of 2019, and, acknowledging its importance as a national strategic asset that society relies heavily on and increasing penalties for economic sabotage of physical infrastructure including fines and prison sentences, to deter individuals and organisations from engaging in such activities.

“The economic sabotage of physical infrastructure continues to have a significant impact on mobile network operators in South Africa. Theft and vandalism of telecommunications infrastructure, such as towers, base stations and fibre optic cables, compounds the disruption of network coverage and service, resulting in loss of revenue for the economy as a whole as well as the mobile network operators.”

The ACT further suggested regulatory relief, including allowing mobile network operators to temporarily increase their network capacity through the provision of temporal spectrum and relaxing regulatory obligations which are arduous to comply with in the current environment.

It also requested greater warning when there will be significant changes in loadshedding stages, so that operators are able to better plan logistically and effectively mobilise resources such as generators as well as steering the ICT sector with an effective and actionable plan to mitigate the power challenge.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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