Government trying to “secretly” push through new mobile data and spectrum laws: FMF

The Free Market Foundation (FMF) has lashed out at Government after it gave only 30 days to comment on the Electronic Communications Amendment (ECA) Bill, which is likely to substantially change how mobile data is regulated in South Africa.

The 115-page bill, which was published on Friday, appears to ignore months of behind closed doors negotiation with the top six mobile network operators (Vodacom, MTN, Cell C etc.) and revert to the original much-criticised White Paper positions, said the FMF.

“Industry insiders believed a compromise solution had been reached,” it said.

“Yet again, government has used duplicitous tactics and shown scant regard for good faith negotiation and public participation.”

“Speculation as to the real agenda remains high. The impact for consumers and the economy in terms of access to new technologies, quality of service and the price of data, is significant.”

FMF executive director Leon Louw said there was disturbing trend emerging whereby government quietly slips in legislation that will have far reaching negative consequences for consumers, industry and the economy.

“Government is paying lip service to the principle of public consultation while manipulating the pre-Christmas lack of media attention to achieve dubious ends,” he said.

Louw highlighted three major points of concern surrounding the bill:

  • It plans to implement a monopoly network — Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN);
  • Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are required to return previously allocated spectrum in which they have invested billions; and
  • MNOs to provide access to their network infrastructure to competitors at cost based pricing

“Spectrum is the lifeblood of the mobile communications industry and MNOs cannot function without it and pay huge license fees to get it,” said Louw.

“All wireless communications signals travel over the air via radio frequency, or spectrum. Your cell phone, TV, and radio, GPS device; the wireless phone service you use to make calls, use Whatsapp and check Facebook from your smartphone — all use invisible airwaves to transmit bits of data.

“Imagine the impact of an acute shortage.”

“The incentive to invest in new technologies being made available to South Africa’s peer countries and competitors will be lost. We will fall behind.”

“These three aspects in the Bill will lead to deterioration in the quality and service of data calls including those irritating dropped calls and inability to connect,” he said.

You can read the full Bill here.

Read: These graphs show just how big fibre has become in South Africa

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Government trying to “secretly” push through new mobile data and spectrum laws: FMF