[20 February 2017] ICASA have requested comment on proposals by Sentech, WBS and Telkom for the amendment of the universal service and access obligations (USAOs) imposed on them under the licences issued to them by ICASA.

The deadline for submissions is 24 February 2017 and written comments can be directed to Moyeni Nkosinkulu (USO Project Leader) / usoproject2016@icasa.org.za.  / enquiries – 011 566 3976.

Original obligation Amended obligation
Sentech
To roll out internet access at the e-rate to 1,500 rural public schools To provide connectivity to all TVET campuses allocated by ICASA
WBS
To provide internet access to no less than 1,000 rural and urban public schools To provide connectivity to 62 TVET campuses allocated by ICASA
Telkom
Rollout of 120 000 public payphones Rollout and maintenance of 25 000 public payphones

 

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[29 December 2015] ICASA is undertaking a regulatory impact assessment (RIA) on the universal service obligations imposed on electronic communications services (ECS) and electronic communications network services (ECNS) licensees under the Electronic Communications Act of 2005.  After an initial informal consultation – RIA – USO Phase II Informal Questions Aug 2015 – ICASA has now provided a “problem statement” together with various options for responding.

General Notice – Regulatory Impact Assessment – USO Phase II 20 Dec 2015

Responses are due by 20 January 2016.

The problem statement reads as follows:

The South African ECS/ECNS market has total of 771 licensees and counting. Of these licensees in the market only 1% have universal service and access obligation with the objective closing the ICT gaps within the communities.

The Definition Of Under-Served Areas Regulations as published shows a list of District Municipalities in the country for availability and accessibility of internet, computers, telephones and cell phones. The first 200 districts in the list have a combined average of internet, computers, telephone and cell phone at penetration rates of less than 30%, the lowest district has 12.7% average. The lowest internet access and availability in a district is 0.0% and highest is 12.5%. Access to computers is lowest at 0.3% and the average for all districts is 15.6%. Contrary to common perception the average for the districts with regards to access and availability of mobile phone services is 72.7%.

It is clear from the above that there are gaps within our communities with regard to availability and accessibility to ICT’s. The South African market has licensees providing services at district and national levels. Their services range from wireless and fixed internet access to voice services. Entities providing these services are mostly WISP, however due to their size most WISP have limited network infrastructure and rely heavily on established entities for backhaul fibre and access to international fibre. WISP often provide their own last mile connectivity to the customer premises which is mostly wireless, however they make use of the ISM band spectrum.

Uptake of services must be considered when issues of universal service and access obligation are being resolved. Currently 5250 public schools have been targeted for roll-out of access to internet services. This forms approx. 22% of all public schools within the country. There is a need for the remaining schools be provided with access including other government service departments that are located within the of communities’ e.g. police stations, community halls, community clinics and fire stations. If these are targeted for initial uptake it might make it easier for surrounding communities’ to accesses these services.

There is need for backhaul fibre to be made accessible and to be in close proximity for WISP and other players to pick-up in order to install base stations/wireless access points. Whilst some backhaul fibre is made available on a commercial basis there is limited access or no access in under-served areas. However, there is considerable backhaul fibre in the country but it serves mainly towns and cities, this needs to be extended to under-served areas. 

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[7 June 2014] ICASA has finalised this review process through the publication of amended universal service obligations on 4 June 2014. These are effective as at 1 April 2014.

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[12 January 2014] The date for submissions was extended to 21 January 2014 by way of a gazette published on 20 December 2013.

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[update 28 November 2013] ICASA has advanced (or attempted to advance) this process through the publication of a “Draft Amendment On USAO“. Comment is due by 19 December 2013.

According to the accompanying press release:

“ICASA has published the Draft Amendment of the Universal Service and Access Obligations (USAO) of the main network operators for the purposes of ensuring compliance within a specified time period. In terms of the proposed amendment, licensees will be required to provide internet access as well as computers, servers, printers and other local area network related equipment as stated in the ICT Solution provided by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) for school connectivity purposes.

The amendment further proposes the removal of the sim-card and handset distribution obligations as well as the reduction in the number of schools to be connected by each licensee.

The Authority commenced with the review of Universal Service Access Obligations in 2008/2009 where an external consultant was appointed and tasked with international benchmarking exercise, and to also take into account adopted approaches in implementing USAO.

In 2010, the Authority published a draft findings document in which it was found that the Community Service Telephones (CSTs) were the only obligation that was fully completed, whereas the sim card and handset obligations were not fully completed. The Authority conducted public hearings in 2011 based on the draft findings document. Subsequently, the Authority undertook a review process of all imposed obligations based on the findings of 2010 and found that sim-card and handset distribution obligations were no longer relevant. In September last year, the Authority published Final Findings Document where it was recommended that licensees implement Internet Access “schools Connectivity” obligations and to review sim-card, handset and public payphones obligations.”

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[update 16 September 2012] The final Findings of the Review into Universal Service and Access Obligations was published on 1o September 2012, and it makes for interesting reading.

Findings Universal Service and Access Obligations Review (GG35674)

The document charts ICASA’s intended approach to universal service and access obligations. Their central challenge is that only certain licensees have USAOs and many of these have not been complied with.

This is worth a read but below is a summary of ICASA’s recommendations:

–   obligations which were imposed during the Telecommunications Act are still binding. Licensees have a continuing obligation to ensure that services provided remain available until such time the Authority reviews such under section 67(8) of the ECA

–  where a licensee has not implemented existing USAOs then it will be required to renegotiate these with ICASA under s10(1)(g) of the ECA

–  licensees from the same category need not be subject to the same obligations in other words they cannot be compelled to carry equal obligations by virtue of the type of licence category alone, other factors must be considered; such as market presence, size of the entity and revenues generated

–  in contributing into the USAF each licensee is contributing towards the goal of achieving Universal Service (“US”)/Universal Access (“UA”). The fund can be utilised to support projects for the provision of communication services in under-serviced areas

–  all broadcasters should pay directly into the USAF as it is not equitable for them to utilise funds from the Fund if they do not contribute

–  ICASA proposes that a “pay and or play model be invoked. In other words funds will be used by any ECNS provider to meet the needs of under-serviced areas (in terms of Section 90) as predetermined by ICASA in terms of Section 88 (subsections 2 and 3)

–  ICASA will not act only subsequent to a market access gap study: “The Authority cannot rely on market access gap studies alone, for instance where communities approach the Authority, the Authority should be free to investigate and consider their needs without having to conduct protracted market access gap studies. Further, new technological developments may compel the Authority to ensure that all communities gain access to new services as provided in terms of Section 10(1)(d). For example, the rapid geographic spread of 4G services cannot be delayed or curtailed by market access gap studies.

As long as consumers benefit from the service/s, there is no need to review related obligations.”

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ICASA has launched a long-overdue review of the regulatory framework surrounding the attainment of Universal Access (UA) and Universal Service (US) in South Africa through the publication of a Discussion Document and an accompanying report on the extent to which the existing framework has succeeded (or failed).

At the heart of the debate is whether SA should retain a system of imposing Universal Service and Access Obligations (USAOs) on licensees or whether we should move to a methodology which sees licensees participating in competitive processes using funds from the Universal Service and Access Fund (USAF) and voluntarily assuming obligations in the event that they are succesful in such process.

Another burning question is what to do with the USAOs imposed on incumbent operators such as Telkom and the mobile networks under the Telecommunications Act. It is apparent from the report on compliance that very few of these obligations have been met and that the incumbents seem to blame a lack of clarity from ICASA and the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) for such failure.

Note: the Discussion Document and Report are too big for upload. They can be obtained on request or from the ICASA website.

USAO Compliance Review Report

Public hearings were held on 8 and 9 December 2010 – USAO Review Hearings Schedule

The following written submissions were made to ICASA:

The report was based on answers received to the following questionnaire:

ICASA Concluding Questionnaire