More Africa NewsMixed reaction as chairperson Modimoeng departs ICASA

June 10, 2022by myles0

Outgoing Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng has been lauded for overseeing the country’s historic spectrum auction process.

However, small, micro and medium entities (SMMEs) are not impressed with how he handled the wholesale open access network (WOAN).

ITWeb asked local industry players about Modimoeng’s legacy after the telecoms regulator yesterday announced his shock resignation, saying he had decided to take some time off.

In March, ICASA, under Modimoeng, raised R14.4 billion from the country’s spectrum auction process, which had been up in the air for some years.

The regulator had targeted raising about R8 billion from the spectrum auction process, which will eventually result in the cost of data going down, as well as mobile operators extending next-gen technologies such as 5G.

Just after the conclusion of the auction, Cabinet threw WOAN licensing into disarray by proposing amendments to remove the requirements to license the WOAN.

ICASA welcomed government’s move, saying it had “already started the process of revisiting the WOAN and its related business case and will consider government’s latest position on this matter”.

A WOAN would operate as a single network, built via a consortium, which will sell high-demand spectrum to telecoms operators on a wholesale basis.

Government believes the WOAN will enable more competition in the telecoms market that will result in data prices coming down.

SMMEs, which largely stand to benefit from the WOAN, believe that putting it on the backburner creates an unnecessary disadvantage to a new entrant while entrenching incumbents’ dominance.

‘Dismal failure’

Leon Rolls, president of the Progressive Blacks in ICT, had no kind words for the departing Modimoeng.

“We want to believe the battle for the WOAN was the biggest challenge he faced but failed dismally to resolve it. Had he given us the WOAN, maybe our footing would have been on the right foot.”

“To us SMMEs, there is nothing to praise or thank Dr Modimoeng for as he has done absolutely nothing for us.”

Rolls adds the biggest disappointment was the way in which the spectrum giveaway was handled under his watch.

“It will be no surprise to see him emerge as a senior executive or board member in one of the companies that he gave the spectrum to on a silver platter. In a nutshell, he can go down in history as the guy that sold our last hope of building the black economy.”

Rolls comments that SA is a developmental country and needs progressive leaders that are capable and able to take bold, unpopular decisions.

“We need the regulator to be led and guided by a person that has a principle that is aligned to the state of the country. SMMEs have been suffering since the birth of this democracy and it is people like Dr Modimoeng that suffocate us as SMMEs.

“We hope he will be replaced by someone that actually puts the interest of the people first before that of the data monopoly. Radical and progressive leaders must be assigned to positions like this, and not puppets.”

ICASA remains a total shame and embarrassment to SMMEs, he comments. “They gave free spectrum to telcos during the COVID-19 lockdown and the revenue generation for data increased to R340 billion from R280 billion.

“They then gave the spectrum away for free, given that the telcos used the free spectrum to increase their revenues at a cost just above what ICASA sold the spectrum for. They wasted our time and energy dangling the WOAN carrot as a distraction to give away the spectrum to the data monopoly.”

Minefield navigator

On the other hand, Christopher Geerdts, BMIT MD, says: “We concur that completing the auction and navigating the minefield of potential objections and litigation was a major step forward and win-win for industry and cellular consumers. We also note that a number of important radio frequency plan elements have been advanced.”

According to Geerdts, spectrum is the lifeblood of the telecoms industry and there is still considerable work to do in clearing the historical backlogs and moving SA to a proactive position.

To achieve this, he points out that ICASA has the difficult task of balancing the demands of multiple stakeholders, including mobile operators, wireless internet service providers and satellite operators – all of which play a critical role in advancing the fourth industrial revolution, while also overcoming the digital divide.

Most of the important spectrum is already in use by legacy incumbents and, therefore, long-term planning and effective migration is needed, Geerdts says.

“Various initiatives need to be finalised in the sub-GHz spectrum bands to re-purpose this valuable spectrum to support rural coverage and services such as emergency or disaster response services.

“Much of the mid-band spectrum can still be re-allocated for more efficient use, whilst the high-band, mm-wave spectrum bands need to be made available before 5G can advance. ICASA has laid important groundwork for much of this.”

According to Geerdts, the rate of change in the regulatory space is accelerating and many countries are looking at “agile” approaches to both policy and regulation, to keep up with and take advantage of changes.

“ICASA has the same challenges, which it must achieve within budget constraints. It also needs to retain independence whilst working constructively with government, which sets the overall policy within which ICASA must work.”

Mixed legacy

Meanwhile, industry body, the South African Communications Forum (SACF), tells ITWeb that the outgoing chairperson had a mixed track record throughout his tenure at ICASA.

“During his term as chairperson, ICASA licensed critical high-demand frequency spectrum, although this only followed a long and initially flawed process,” says Katharina Pillay, MD of SACF.

“At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, ICASA was hailed for the immediate and progressive approach to enabling business continuity through the allocation of temporary spectrum to operators, reduce barriers to type approval and tariff approvals. While this process was not without challenges – wobbling in the second half of 2021 – it was finally resolved due to operator discussions and a new licensing regime.”

With regards to the characteristics ICASA should identify when looking for a new chairperson, she says: “ICASA has not yet had a woman chairperson. Now would be the opportune moment for the minister to appoint a woman as the chairperson. There are strong, credible and competent women able to capably lead ICASA.

“It would be useful for the new chairperson to be forward-looking, understand the sector, its critical role to economic growth, investment and the link to the regulatory environment. The SACF wishes Dr Modimoeng success in his new endeavours,” she concludes.

Source: IT

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