South Africa: ECA Bill gives DTPS minister too much power

9 February 2018

Telecoms

The Electronic Communications Amendment Bill (ECA Bill) gives too much power to the minister of telecommunications and postal services and erodes the power of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA).

This is according to a written submission by Research ICT Africa (RIA) commenting on the Bill.

"The Bill grants extensive powers to the minister, not only in overseeing the sector, developing policies and representing the country at international fora, but also in the management of scarce resources such as spectrum.

"This, we believe, erodes the powers of independent entities (such as ICASA), that have the necessary technical expertise and grasp of the dynamics and trends within the broad ICT sector to implement national policy independently of government and industry," RIA says in its submission.

RIA is a think tank which conducts research on ICT policy across Africa and in the global South. It believes the Bill, approved by Cabinet in November, undermines the independence of ICASA and expands the minister's power in a way that undermines the functional separation of policy, regulatory and operational power.

"There is an undercurrent throughout the Bill that asserts the role of the department/minister over that of ICASA, and downgrades the independence of the latter. In our view, this may render the Bill unconstitutional. It also reflects a lack of appreciation of the centrality of effective regulation in an effectively functioning ICT ecosystem."

The Bill seeks to implement and give effect to the policy objectives set out in the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper, published in late 2016. The ECA Bill contains provisions such as spectrum allocation, the proposed wireless open access network (WOAN) and rapid deployment policy, which have garnered widespread criticism from some stakeholders in the sector.

The deadline for comments on the Bill was 31 January and government plans to host public hearings in early March. Read the full article on ITWeb here