The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) is still committed to pursuing a Wireless Open Access Network (Woan); however, it has to be done properly, said Icasa chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.
Presenting to the Portfolio Committee on Communications on Tuesday, he explained that it is prudent for Icasa to pause and embark on a process to strengthen and enhance the Woan business case, incorporating extensive public participation.
In November 2021, the authority temporarily suspended the licensing timetable for the release of the Woan spectrum to allow the high-demand spectrum permanent licensing process to be completed and enable Icasa to “interrogate the impact of the outcomes on the licensing of the Woan”.
Icasa was due to publish the envisaged Woan consultation document on November 19, a decision it retracted amid the sensitivity of the spectrum licensing process, the ongoing consultation processes in that regard and the numerous considerations including legal imperatives.
“Having embarked on this process, we realised there was always a linkage wherein the Woan was, more often than not, engulfed in the litigation that was related to the licensing of the spectrum through the auction,” he said.
As a result of that, and considering that other jurisdictions upon which the Woan model has fundamentally been benchmarked have encountered certain challenges, the authority pressed pause on the process.
“There is no use licensing a Woan by just going through the motions, licensing the Woan for failure, or licensing the Woan in a way that places unjustifiable obligations or burdens on incumbents.”
“It has to be properly balanced in a way we know will be embraced in a healthy manner by industry and supported in a way that it does not become a monumental failure.”
Extensive public consultation is required, he added, urging stakeholders to provide input as and when it is opened to the public.
Further, there have been a series of engagements with the Mexican regulator, which implemented a model similar to South Africa’s proposed Woan and engagements are being sought with other international jurisdictions to draw lessons from their experiences on the licensing of a typical Woan.
“This Woan licensing process is aimed at introducing an additional credible player with a view to promote competition in the information and communication technologies sector for the benefit of all South Africans. Therefore, it is very important to enhance our knowledge and develop a holistic approach to the Woan process. Such additional engagements will provide a clearer guidance in terms of how effective and economical this licensing process will be,” Modimoeng previously commented.
Meanwhile, Icasa, after serious delays in the past occasioned by a number of factors, has finally managed to license the high-demand radio frequency spectrum through an auction, raising R14.4-billion for the fiscus, Modimoeng said.
Following the successful auction of the high-demand spectrum in March, Icasa had issued Radio Frequency Spectrum Licences to the successful bidders by May 10 after receiving the proportional payment of the auction fees.
Six qualified bidders – Cell C, Liquid Intelligent Technologies, MTN, Rain, Telkom and Vodacom – participated in Icasa’s two-phased auction process from March 8 to 17, in an effort to secure a spectrum allocation.
One successful bidder, however, has only serviced part of the auction fee. Modimoeng said that the authority is taking advice on the matter.
“The licences have been issued to the successful bidders. We are just finalising the payment with one operator, who has paid in part. We are at the tail end of closing up on the payment issue,” he explained.
The social obligations relating to connecting various public institutions is in the process of being finalised.
These will include the connectivity of police stations, clinics and government hospitals across South Africa, besides others.
Modimoeng noted that the spectrum auction was not only about procuring the necessary relevant spectrum, but also certain obligations for a meaningful effort towards bridging the digital divide.