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A ‘USE IT or lose it" principle will underpin government’s telecommunications spectrum policy which would be finalised by the end of March, says Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele.

This principle will ensure the efficient utilisation of spectrum which is a scarce resource, Mr Cwele on Tuesday told Parliament’s telecommunications and postal services committee, though it would require capacity to investigate utilisation of the spectrum.

The long-awaited policy on spectrum will form part of a national policy on information communications technology. Government’s failure to finalise its spectrum policy has held back the development of the industry which needs more spectrum to expand its operations and to roll out the next generation of services.

"There is a growing demand for spectrum from different radio-communication services throughout the radio-frequency spectrum" the department’s deputy director-general for ICT infrastructure support Tinyiko Ngobeni told MPS on Tuesday.

He said SA needed a regulatory environment conducive to the efficient assignment of spectrum for competing uses. "Current policy objectives and rules are unclear, ambiguous, not measurable and not easily achievable," he said.

Mr Cwele said that there were currently over 400 licensees but only six had access to spectrum. He acknowledged that the current policy of "first come first served" might not be beneficial for the long term growth and development of the sector. Barriers to entry particularly for small operators would have to be dealt with as well as the creation of "artificial monopolies" whether fixed or mobile.

There was also a need to review the structure of the market and decide on whether infrastructure should be shared or not and whether SA should have a common carrier network and whether it should allow the duplication of infrastructure.

Mr Cwele said the constitutional principle of equality (between urban and rural dwellers in terms of their access to broadband spectrum) as well as the guidelines contained in the national development plan (NDP) would form the basis for the ICT policy. "The NDP will continue to be the guiding light of what we will be doing," the minister said.

The policy would also have to provide for the transformation of the industry. While some might argue that SA should have a few dominant players government strongly believed that there should be multiple operators.