The Internet Service Providers' Association of South Africa (ISPA) is supporting ICASA's recent request for information from licensees but cautions that it will oppose any attempts by ICASA to take enforcement action against ISPA members for not commencing with these services.
"ISPA believes that the regulator needs ready access to information from all licensed players if it is to effectively regulate the industry," says Dominic Cull, regulatory advisor to ISPA.
"As such, we have urged all our members to comply with the request for information. However, we also believe that the ability of our members to exercise their rights and meet their obligations under their licences has been compromised by the regulator’s failure to finalise a number of key regulations."
The single most important example of this failure is the fact that ICASA has yet to finalise a framework for the assignment of licensed spectrum in the 2.6GHz and 3.5GHz radio frequency spectrum bands. Players need access to this spectrum to build wireless networks to serve their customers.
"Without spectrum, ISPs can't even plan the building of their networks – never mind actually commence the provision of ECNS," says Cull.
“There are also no final regulations for interconnection, facilities leasing, spectrum pricing and carrier pre-selection / carrier selection." Neither has ICASA finalised any exercise under Chapter 10 of the ECA aimed at addressing the anti-competitive pricing and conduct recently exposed by the Competition Commission, she adds.
“These regulations are all crucial in creating an environment in which new entrants are able to exercise their rights. They were all intended to be in place by July 2008, before licence conversion took place. The former VANS licensees have had very limited time and opportunity to provide network services.”
ISPA notes that there is still little guidance from the authority on the exact delineation to be drawn between the provision of ECS and the provision of ECNS, and that the issues surrounding the wide definition of resellers in the ECA have not been addressed.
"We therefore appeal to ICASA to clarify the rights and responsibilities of companies licensed under ECS and ECNS licences," Cull says.
ISPA recognises it is not desirable to have licensees who have no intention of exercising their rights under their service licences, but believes that any disciplinary measures taken at this time would be premature, she adds.
“What could the South African consumer stand to gain by ICASA seeking to curtail the recent and long-overdue liberalisation of licensing before the benefits of competition have been given a proper chance to filter through to service pricing?
"We suggest that ICASA instead revisits the issue of commencement of services once the core elements of the ECA regulatory framework are in place and a healthy, competitive electronic communications industry exists."