Here in South Africa, Justice Norman Davis has denied Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburi’s request to appeal the Altech ruling. This once again opens the doors to competition in the telecoms sector in South Africa. The Minister can still appeal to the Supreme Court but let us hope that she takes good advice on whether to do so. The current situation has already gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. However, I put nothing past the Department of Communications. Telecoms in South Africa is the land of “never say never”.
The Minister could still attempt to have the Electronic Communications Act amended to suit her design but that seems less likely now for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, ICASA is now likely to continue converting VANS licenses to either individual Electronic Communications Network Service (ECNS) licenses (essentially a license to be a telco) or Electronic Communication Service (ECS) licenses. This is likely to mitigate against any attempt to move the state of play backwards. On the other hand, elections are looming in South Africa for the middle of 2009 and the appetite for passing legislation that is likely to be unpopular will hopefully be quite small.
So, with this issue out of the way, what remains? Well, frankly a lot. Market definitions, interconnection fees, essential facilitites, local loop unbundling, the list goes on. By far the most interesting one for me though is the issue of spectrum. The market is not going to really open up to competition unless we take some very proactive steps to open spectrum in South Africa. That for me is the next and most immediate challenge for industry, government, and civil society.