The Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) is once again calling on the Department of Communications to release information relating to progress made in auditing the use of radio frequency spectrum in South Africa.
“Spectrum is a resource that needs to be allocated and assigned wisely if we are to have any hope of meeting the target for 100% broadband penetration by 2020, and generally support economic growth,” says ISPA regulatory advisor Dominic Cull.
“To do this, we need to understand how the spectrum is currently being utilised. Progress on the audit has been slow but there are indications that at least a portion of the exercise may have already been completed.”
The audit is potentially explosive because it could prompt the regulator to reassign spectrum that is not being fully used by the companies to whom it is currently assigned.
Cull notes that is hard to find information about these audits and whether they have been completed. For example, an audit for the 500MHZ-1GHz range was awarded in January 2011, while one on the 500MHz-20GHz was supposed to be delivered in September 2011.
“In its presentation on 24 April 2013 to the Select Committee on Labour and Public Enterprise on its Strategic Plan for 2013-2018 and its Annual Performance Plan (2013/4), the Department referred to the ‘outcomes of the recent spectrum audit’,” explains Cull.
“If that’s the case, we believe that the Department should release the results so that the information required to manage this vital resource more efficiently is generally available.”
Lack of spectrum access has been a bone of contention across the telecommunications industry as a whole for some time. Mobile operators, for example, complain that their plans to introduce 4G or LTE technology are hampered by inadequate spectrum assignments, while the regulator and Department of Communications have delayed assigning unused spectrum for a number of reasons.
“We need to get this issue resolved very soon, the opportunity cost to date of not assigning available spectrum runs to billions of rand and with further delays we risk putting further brakes on economic growth,” Cull says.