The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) has issued four of the underserviced area licences (USALs).In June, the Minister awarded licences to Bokone Telecoms (Limpopo, Capricorn District); Thinta Thinta Telecoms (KwaZulu-Natal, Ugu District); Kingdom Communications (KZN, Zululand District); and Ilizwe Telecoms (Eastern Cape, or Tambo Municipality).

Since then, the four bidders and the regulator have been thrashing out licensing conditions related to the USALs. “ICASA had to ensure that all the factors to enable the success of these greenfields operations were taken into consideration and there has been a period of intense negotiations and discussions between ourselves and the licensees,” says ICASA chairman Mandla Langa. At the time the minister awarded the four licences, three other bidders were referred back to ICASA for consideration, subject to their resolving certain shareholder issues.

These were the Eastern Cape's Amatole Communications, Karabotel in the Central District in the North West Province and Bokamoso Communications in the Lejweleputswa District. There were also two areas where the regulator considered the bids to not be of a high enough standard to be granted.

According to Phineas Moleele, project manager for the USALs at ICASA, the three bidders have submitted additional information and it is envisioned that the matter will be resolved by the end of the month or early in December. “As far as further USAL licence applications go, it is the minister's decision as to when the invitation to apply will go out, but it is only a matter of time before the second stage goes ahead,” says Moleele.

Sifiso Mbatha, CEO of Kingdom Communications, says his organisation expects to have a firm plan within the next two weeks as to when its roll-out can begin. “Obviously we want to start as soon as possible, but the deregulation announcement has sent us back to the drawing board,” he says. “The real problem is that the deregulation picture is unclear at present, as there is no framework, so we will have to review the situation and see what the impact will be of the deregulation, and what scenarios this might bring forth.”

Dalson Chikala, a member of Bokone Telecoms' executive committee, echoed this view. “The deregulation has certainly affected the original business plan, but it also has its positive side, as we can now take advantage of the changes ourselves.”

Chikasa says the business case is definitely there and everyone in Limpopo Province is excited about the potential job and wealth creation this project can bring. “We are in the process of appointing a technology partner and are delivering on our mandate to our region – now the real work begins.”

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