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  • New Information and Communications Technology Bill on the cards
    June 19, 2009

    Following years of pushing for the adoption of a unitary and independent regulation of the telecommunications and broadcastings sector in Zimbabwe, including recent high profile advocacy meetings with the Minister of Information Technology and ICTs, Hon Nelson Chamisa, MISA-Zimbabwe notes with interest recent announcement that a new Information and Communications Technology Bill is in the offing. And that the proposed new law would see the merging of the existing information and communication laws and repealing of the Broadcasting Services Act and Postal and Telecommunications Act being among its major objectives.

    The Bill provides for the establishment of a converged communications authority called the National Information and Communications Technology Authority of Zimbabwe (Authority). This body is set to provide for the licensing and regulation of telecommunications as well as broadcasting and postal services. In addition, the Bill will also provide for the facilitation and regulation of electronic communications and transactions.

    The Bill also envisages the repeal of the Postal and Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Services Act. However, the Bill does not provide for the repeal of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act
    (AIPPA) but proposes for its amendment.

    The Authority shall exercise licensing and regulatory functions in respect of information and communications services in Zimbabwe including the determination of types and classes of licensees and the approval process, tariffs and alterations thereto. It shall also allocate, manage, review the frequency spectrum, as well as license the users of the frequency spectrum including broadcasters and signal careers.

    If enacted into law the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) will cease to exist as it will be superseded by the Authority which will assume all the basic functions of the former body.

    Section 60 sets out the powers of the Authority and expressly states that the Authority shall regulate broadcasting provision in the manner that it feels will best meet the demand for broadcasting services. Licensing for broadcasting services is provided for under section 61 which notes that no person shall broadcast without a license except for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation which shall be deemed licensed under the Bill.

    Under section 34, provision is made for frequency management by the Authority, while section 35 deals with licensing in respect of the utilisation of radio frequency. In terms of section 47, the Authority shall also be the sole licensing body with regard to telecommunications network operators.

    In terms of section 62, pursuant to the applications for broadcasting license, the Authority shall make sure that it issues broadcasting licences in sufficient numbers to meet the public demand for broadcasting services, and the process of issuing broadcasting licenses is set therein.

    Section 6 of the Bill anticipates that the Authority shall be independent in the exercise of its functions and subject only to the law. This independence, however, appears to be compromised by the fact that section 9 states that the Authority shall be tasked to implement government policies relating to information and communications services, a factor that would obviously dilute its autonomy.

    Section 7 of the proposed Bill provides for the manner of appointment of councillors to the Authority and its composition. The authority shall consist of not less than 5 members but not more than 9 members who are to be appointed by the president on the recommendation of cabinet. The major change in the appointment process lies in the fact that it proposes public participation in the nomination process. The Authority shall be headed by a Chief Executive Officer in terms of section 15.

    Under section 74 of the Bill provision is made for the licensing of those wishing to venture into the business of postal services. Although no person shall engage in this venture without being licensed, Zimbabwe Posts
    (ZimPost) shall be deemed duly licensed under the Bill.

    Section159 apparently endorses the continued existence of the Interception of Communications Act: Subject to the Interception of Communications Act [Chapter 11:20].of (Act No. 6 of 2207) a person who intentionally accesses or intercepts any data without authority or permission to do so is guilty of an offence and liable to ...or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 15 years.

    The clear import of this section is that whereas interception by an unauthorized individual or other body is illegal, the same action is perfectly legal or permissible when orchestrated by the government or such other authorized body.

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