ICASA completes the review of the ICT COVID-19 National Disaster Regulations

Pretoria – The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA/the Authority) has completed the review of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) COVID-19 National Disaster Regulations (The Regulations) and, having considered all the written submissions received within the stipulated deadline, resolved to, among others: extend the temporary radio frequency spectrum assignments issued to licensees for a further three months (from 1 June 2021 to 31 August 2021).

The Authority hopes that all key stakeholders will use this period to find a resolution to the spectrum litigation impasse. The Chairperson of ICASA, Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng urges active litigants to participate in the ongoing settlement negotiations in order to resolve the matter.

“The three-month extension affords an opportunity for all stakeholders to find a resolution to the spectrum litigation impasse. Unfortunately, at some stage we will not be able to continually extend these temporary spectrum assignments when a more permanent licensing route is struck through litigation. We need to come to the negotiations with well-meaning intentions, as soon as possible to resolve this ongoing legal stand-off. We cannot perpetuate a pandemic-specific temporary arrangement to a point where it amounts to a backdoor spectrum licensing regime. High-demand Spectrum ought to be licensed in a transparent and competitive manner; hence any other way is unjustifiable in the long run.” says Dr Modimoeng.

The Authority first published the ICT COVID-19 National Disaster Regulations on 6 April 2020 following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Pursuant to the publication of these Regulations there have been various adjustments of the lockdown levels by the National Command Council, which ICASA continues to observe. “It has been over a year and the government - guided by scientific evidence - has also been extending the national disaster period on a month-to-month basis, which is clearly an indication that there is no permanence in this regard.” adds Dr Modimoeng.

On 23 April 2021, the Authority published a Notice on the review of the Regulations in the Government Gazette, seeking written submissions from interested stakeholders in an effort to comprehensively review the current Regulations. The Authority has since received written submissions in that regard.

Following consideration of written submissions, the Authority resolved to make amendments to the Regulations. These amendments include, amongst others, the following:

1. Assignment of the temporary radio frequency spectrum – which has now been extended for three months;

2. Current spectrum pooling arrangements - the duration of all spectrum sharing agreements approved by the Authority pursuant to these Regulations shall not exceed the duration of the temporary radio frequency spectrum licences;

3. Obligations attendant upon temporarily assigned spectrum - all licensees assigned with temporary spectrum must maintain network connectivity in line with regulatory requirements for the virtual classroom platforms allocated respectively to them by the Authority, free of charge, for a period of seventeen (17) months from the date of confirmation of deployment by the operator;

4. Type-approval relaxation measures – type-approved equipment that operates in the radio frequency spectrum that is temporarily assigned in terms of these Regulations shall be decommissioned within three (3) months after the expiry of the temporary radio frequency spectrum licences; and

5. Broadcasting services and related matters - television broadcasting service licensees are exempted from compliance with specific advertising requirements in terms of their licence conditions. However, television broadcasting service licensees shall comply with the local television content quotas during the National State of Disaster, to the extent reflected in the Regulations. On the other hand, the suspension of the requirement for community broadcasting service licensees to hold any community meetings or AGMs and to submit proof of holding such meetings is lifted. In exceptional circumstances, where it is not possible for a community broadcasting service licensee to hold a community meeting or AGM, such licensee must submit proof to the Authority at least twenty-one (21) working days before the date specified in its constitutive documents for holding the community meeting or AGM.

Broadcasting service licensees play a critical role in the dissemination of information about the Covid-19 pandemic and related public announcements. Dr Modimoeng encourages broadcasters to ensure that they adhere to the new adjustments on, among others, local content, as well as the requirements to ensure that information reaches all sectors of society, including persons with disabilities.


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