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Electronic Communications Amendment Bill in the Pipeline

February 10, 2021

Department of Communications and Digital Technologies

A Draft Electronic Communications Amendment Bill is currently being developed to improve the current Universal Service and Access Framework.

The communications and digital technologies department confirmed this during a briefing to the select committee on public enterprises and communication.

The briefing focused on the aims and objectives of the National Integrated Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Policy White Paper in changing and transforming the ICT landscape in South Africa.

The White Paper was published in 2016 designed to create an environment that, amongst others, enables universal access to modern communication tools and services, opens up opportunities for new and smaller businesses and facilitates more competition in the sector in a manner that ultimately reduces costs.

The department added that the terms “Universal Access” and “Universal Service” will be substituted with “Universal Digital Services”.

The proposed legislation will also ensure that the Policy on Universal Digital Services is updated at least every two years in order to promote a digital economy and digital society.

An Electronic Communications Amendment Bill was tabled in parliament in September 2018 but was withdrawn from parliament to align it with the drive towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

During the briefing, the department also pointed out that the draft bill will provide for key amendments recommended by the Competition Commission in its Data Services Market Inquiry report.

The improving of competition will be a key focus of the proposed legislation including providing the Independent Communications Authority (ICASA) with more regulatory flexibility so as to keep up to date with market developments and prevent anti-competitive outcomes for the sector.

The plan is also to provide ICASA with the “means to regulate based on the findings and recommendations of other regulatory or enforcement agencies such as the Competition Commission”.

The department holds the view that more effective means of inter-regulator collaboration could boost regulatory oversight, enforcement and regulation.

Other proposed amendments in the draft bill include addressing issues related to cost to communicate, community networks, ineffective service based competition, lack of sharing and access to electronic infrastructure to facilitate internet access.

The department also highlighted that the Draft Data and Cloud Policy is being finalised for consideration by cabinet which, amongst others, advocates for the establishment of data centres, consolidation of existing networks of state-owned enterprises such as SENTECH, SITA, Broadband Infraco to form a SDIC and the setting up of a Digital/ICT Special Economic Zone to support local and foreign investment in data and cloud infrastructure and services; the drafting of a Draft Digital Development Challenge Bill to address ICT Infrastructure and services; a Draft Postal Services Amendment Bill to be re-tabled in parliament; the drafting of a South African Post Office Amendment Bill focused on restructuring and repositioning of SAPO and expanding on SAPO’s mandate to contribute towards universal access to ICTs, the digital economy and to make it a central government service delivery player and finalising the Digital Economy Masterplan focused on digital inclusion, skills for work, responsive governance, innovation and competitiveness and government digitization.