The Department of Communications & Digital Technologies has published a ‘next-generation radio frequency spectrum policy for economic development’ – replacing government’s 2010 spectrum policy and informed by input received on proposals released in September 2022.

Six months have passed since Cabinet approved the new policy for publication. However, according to a media statement issued at the time, its purpose is to ‘address gaps and limitations … identified in the 2016 National Information & Communications Technology White Paper’. It also lays the foundation for amendments to ‘relevant sections’ of the Electronic Communications Act, 2005.

In that context, the statement referred expressly to:

  • a lack of clarity on the roles and responsibilities of the Minister and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, apparently contributing to ‘inefficiencies’
  • ‘gaps in the spectrum management regime’
  • an ‘exclusive spectrum regime’ benefitting ‘a few’ of the country’s ‘bigger players’, and
  • ‘inefficiencies’ apparently encountered during attempts to extend broadband access to rural, remote and underserved areas.

The new policy itself also notes the importance of lowering the cost to communicate, which is one of its overarching objectives.

Against that backdrop, with the aim of establishing ‘a mechanism for creating a stable and predictable regulatory environment’, the new policy:

  • defines the ‘validity period’ for high-demand spectrum band usage
  • clarifies the rules and conditions for spectrum assignment and renewals
  • outlines the requirements for effective and efficient spectrum use
  • promotes ‘spectrum harmonisation’ nationally and across South Africa’s borders
  • facilitates the deployment of next-generation networks, ‘starting with 5G’, and
  • enables the authority to ‘support and promote competition’.

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Published by SA Legal Academy Policy Watch

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