The process of awarding the underserviced area licences (USALs) has moved to its next step, following the conclusion of the public hearings into the various bids at the end of February. The hearings for the 14 applications (for a total of 10 USALs) were conducted by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) in each of the regions where the licences are to be awarded, as a means of enabling the people concerned to attend.

The 27 USALs that are ultimately to be issued form part of the government’s ongoing liberalisation of the telecommunications market, with the aim being to license small operators to serve certain areas with low penetration of telephones. According to Phineas Moleele, ICASA’s USAL project manager, the hearings finished on schedule and the general reaction of the communities was positive and enthusiastic.

"The regulator has now requested additional information from the bidders, with regards to certain aspects of their presentations, and once we have received this from the various bidders, we will be consolidating the information and deliberating the issues," says Moleele. He says this process will begin once the final response that ICASA is still waiting on is received. "Once ICASA has done this, the authority will then make a recommendation to the minister of communications regarding the licences," he says.

"Although it’s difficult to set specific times to processes such as these, we will certainly endeavour to deliver our recommendation to the minister by April at the latest, and we definitely hope to have the USAL process completed before the second half of the year."