Ominous trend of presenting critical Bills for public comment just before Christmas continues with Electronic Communications Amendment Bill and four others.
Last Friday, 17 November 2017, Cabinet approved the 115-page Electronic Communications Amendment (ECA) Bill giving the public and industry just 30 calendar days in which to comment after which the consultation period will be closed and further objection prohibited. The industry is again stunned at the contents, which ignore months of behind closed doors negotiation with the top six mobile network operators (MNOs) and revert to the original much-criticised White Paper positions. Industry insiders believed a compromise solution had been reached. Yet again, government has used duplicitous tactics and shown scant regard for good faith negotiation and public participation. Speculation as to the real agenda remains high. The impact for consumers and the economy in terms of access to new technologies, quality of service and the price of data, is significant. Data prices will rise, not fall.
“There is a disturbing trend emerging whereby government quietly slips in legislation that will have far reaching negative consequences for consumers, industry and the economy. Government is paying lip service to the principle of public consultation while manipulating the pre-Christmas lack of media attention to achieve dubious ends,” said FMF executive director Leon Louw.
Three key issues of concern in the 2016 White Paper remain in the Bill:
- Plans to implement a monopoly network – Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN);
- Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) required to return previously allocated spectrum* in which they have invested billions;
- MNOs to provide access to their network infrastructure to competitors at cost based pricing.
Spectrum is the lifeblood of the mobile communications industry. MNOs cannot function without it and pay huge license fees to get it. All wireless communications signals travel over the air via radio frequency, or spectrum. Your cell phone, TV, and radio, GPS device; the wireless phone service you use to make calls, use Whatsapp and check Facebook from your smartphone – all use invisible airwaves to transmit bits of data. Imagine the impact of an acute shortage.
The incentive to invest in new technologies being made available to South Africa’s peer countries and competitors will be lost. We will fall behind.
These three aspects in the Bill will lead to deterioration in the quality and service of data calls including those irritating dropped calls and inability to connect.
Other Bills gazetted last week for public comment include three labour Bills including the new National Minimum Wage Bill, and the Legal Practice Amendment Bill – all with short comment periods absolutely contrary to the principles of good faith public participation.
- Electronic Communications Amendment Bill (17 November – 17 December, one month)
- National Minimum Wage Bill (17 – 30 November, 13 days, completely new law)
- Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Bill (17 – 30 November, 13 days)
- Labour Relations Amendment Bill (17 – 30 November, 13 days)
- Legal Practice Amendment Bill (15 – 21 November, 6 days)
“Government cannot be allowed to force through critically important legislation when society’s attention is focused on the much-needed Christmas break and family time,” said Louw.
The FMF is calling for an extension of the consultation period to the end of February – 90 days – to allow for real public consultation and encourages others to do the same.
“Again, the FMF demands a full, properly undertaken Socio Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA) be made publically available instead of the hastily-drafted version placed on the DTPS website the day before I was to raise the lack of a SEIA with the Minister,” said Louw. A SEIA is mandated by Cabinet and should accompanying any new Bill with supporting documentation.
Note: The FMF is holding a briefing on 6 December to inform the media, not only on the contents of the Bill, but on the wider picture including the essential input of public participation in the democratic process.