The closing date for applications for licences to operate telecommunications services in 10 of the 29 identified underserviced rural areas, where Telkom does not penetrate effectively, has been pushed back from 30 April to 30 June. Sources close to the process, who did not wish to be named, told ITWeb that they were under the impression that certain bidders had requested the delay, citing two main reasons.

The first is that the interconnection rates for the underserviced areas have yet to be finalised, while the second is that they are anticipating the release of a policy document from the Universal Services Agency (USA) regarding funding assistance for these regions.

The USA is a statutory body whose objectives include advising on ways to bring about universal access and service, co-ordinating initiatives by the various telecoms service providers and extending access to telecoms by working with community-based organisations, non-governmental organisations, donor organisations and businesses.

It manages the Universal Service Fund, which holds a percentage of funds allocated from the licences of all telecoms suppliers. It supports projects that increase universal access to telecoms services.

While many have questioned the viability of businesses restricted to low-income areas, despite the special privileges expected to be granted to the small operators, there are reported to be many interested parties.

The sources say rural communities would probably not be affected too much by this further delay, as they have already been waiting for services for so long that another two months would hardly be noticed.

General consensus appears to be that while it is understood that there is a process to follow and that the extra two months will afford consortiums more time to communicate with the relevant communities and put certain structures in place, such delays are nonetheless frustrating.