Submission by Transtel,

a division of Transnet Limited


in relation to the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Bill (B17-2007)




29 June 2007




Transtel welcomes the opportunity to make comments on the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Bill (AGA Bill). Transtel notes the various positive amendments (particularly Chapter 6, section 41) from the draft Bill and would further welcome the opportunity to make verbal representation on the content of the Bill. We respectfully request that the Portfolio Committee allocate a slot to make an oral representation before Parliament.




Transtel supports the objectives of the Bill. However, there are certain provisions in the Bill that will have significant implications on the operations of the business.





1.       The Transnet Group


The Transnet group is a diversified freight transport and logistics company. It operates and controls the major freight transport infrastructures within South Africa, affirming Transnet as the biggest player in the Southern African transport arena. It has over 65 000 employees and assets in excess of R77 billion.


The group’s vision is to provide integrated, seamless transport solutions for its customers in the bulk and manufacturing sectors as part of the drive to increase the competitiveness of the South African economy. As a result, Transnet is now well into advanced stages of implementing its business re-engineering programme targeting efficiency and productivity improvements, safety, cost containment and customer service at the core operating divisions – Spoornet, the National Ports Authority, the SA Port Operations, Transwerk and Petronet.


The main focus of the re-engineering programme is on efficiency improvements in Spoornet’s general freight, coal and iron ore divisions as well as on its national operating centre and in establishing a culture of planned maintenance. The company is implementing a R64, 5 billion-investment programme, the bulk of it is dedicated to Spoornet’s turnaround prospects. The investment is aimed at increasing the quality of service through improved reliability and safety service level for our clients. 


The disposal of non-core assets brings Transnet closer to its goal of focusing all its energies on its core business – ports, freight rail and pipelines.  


The process has also positioned Transnet to play a role in leveraging meaningful black economic empowerment and facilitating skills and technology transfer. 





The SKA project will consist of a core site and have antenna stations spiraling outward from this core site to distances up to 3000 km.  The distribution of the antenna stations is as follows:


·         A “core” of 25 stations within a 1 km diameter located in the Northern Cape Province. 

·         A “central area” encircling the core with a diameter of 5 km, containing 40 stations.

·         An annular “outer zone” from 2.5 km to 150 km radius that contains 30 stations.


A “remote zone” from 150 km radius extending out to 3000 km, containing the remaining 30 remote stations, including stations in Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius, Kenya and Ghana.


Three proposed sites were selected in the Karoo. The site, which is favoured, is the Karoo 2D1 site near Carnarvon.


Transtel has a national transmission system that is used to carry mission critical services for the Transnet group of companies. The AGA Bill that has been drawn up does not give any comfort to the protection and continued operation of these systems thereby placing the Transnet customers at risk of having their services limited in terms of future expansion and/or possibly terminated.


During the initial investigation of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, interference calculations were done from all three proposed sites to determine the extent of the interference caused by these various Transtel transmission systems in the proximity of the three proposed hub sites in the Karoo. The only system that was in the area of the three proposed hub sites was the Sishen – Saldanha microwave radio system and the UHF radio system that is used for trains operations. The findings were that there would be limited interference from the microwave radio system between Sishen and Saldanha but extensive interference from the UHF radio systems along the Sishen to Saldanha route that are used for the iron ore train operations.


Conditions for an ideal SKA site is that of complete radio silence, i.e. the radio telescopes are “listening” to the entire radio frequency spectrum.


The AGA Bill has indicated that certain areas will be classified as Astronomy Advantage Areas (AAA). However the Bill does not mention the size and/or the location of these areas. The SKA project consists of long spirals that extend from a central hub in the Western Cape through all provinces within Southern Africa. Each of these spirals consists of a large number of radio telescope sites.


If each of these sites are also classified as Astronomy Advantage Areas then this project will not only impact on the Sishen – Saldanha system but also the rest of the Transtel radio systems through out the country.


Transnet’s train operations, particularly in remote areas, are completely dependent on radio communications. Furthermore, maintenance staff working on such sections has no other means but radio to communicate.


The impact on this system could range from terminating the operation of the system to restricting any future upgrading - any of which would seriously impact on the Transnet operations. 


1.       Chapter 1, section 1

1.1.     The definition of astronomy device may constitute a device that can only be authorized by Independent communications Authority (“ICASA”).

1.2.    The definitions of “radio frequency interference”, “fixed radio frequency interference source” and “interference source” are too wide and make it difficult for an affected party to determine the extent of the impact of its infrastructure and activities on the relevant astronomy advantage area.  These definitions do not indicate what exactly would constitute interference with radio astronomy.  Do all radio frequencies have the ability to interfere with radio astronomy or is it only those radio frequencies / interference transmitted by devices/ radio waves, which are transmitted within the “radio frequency spectrum” (as defined) that have the ability to interfere with radio astronomy?

2.       Chapter 1, section 4

2.1.    Some of the issues like the control of radio frequency spectrum and frequency band plans are exclusively within the control of ICASA in terms of the Electronic Communications Act 36 of 2005.  In turn ICASA is bound to control the radio frequency spectrum in compliance with the applicable standards and requirements of the International Telecommunications Union and its Radio Regulations.

2.2.    To the extent that the AGA Bill supersedes the Electronic Communications Act 36 of 2005 in this respect, by virtue of this provision, it will pose a problem in the sense that two ministries under very different mandates will effectively be controlling these issues.

3.       Chapter 2, sections 6 to 13

3.1.    These sections essentially deal with the right of the Minister to declare Astronomy Advantage Areas and the right to withdraw the declaration of areas as Astronomy Advantage Areas.

3.2.    It appears that the Minister may declare on notice any area that is not “private land” as an Astronomy Advantage Area. 

4.       Chapter 3, sections 15(1) and 16

4.1.    Transtel welcomes the amendment to the draft bill, which now includes the consultative process.

5.        Chapter 3, section 21

5.1.    These provisions may impact on South African Airways.  We will not for the purposes of this memorandum, comment on such potential impact.

6.       Chapter 3, section 22

6.1.    We refer to our comments in paragraph 2 above in relation to the control and management of radio frequency spectrum in core and central astronomy advantage areas.

7.       Chapter 3, section 24

7.1.    Transtel notes and welcomes the consultative process introduced by section 24(4), where planned identified activities could be initiated if they are in the national interest.

8.       Chapter 3, section 27

8.1.    This section grants the Minister with power to review any existing identified activities, which were lawfully conducted immediately before a declaration in terms of section 24. 

8.2.    The Minister may impose conditions after following a public participation process on notice to the affected party. 

8.3.    It appears that the Minister may then impose restrictions on the affected party’s activities.  There is no provision made for compensation to such a party if the conditions set by the Minister adversely impacts on the party in relation to the identified activity.  This may adversely affect a party who was already engaged in an identified activity prior to the declaration of such activity, especially if that party has invested a substantial amount of money in the activity or could suffer damages as a result of its commitments to third party contractors.

9.       Chapter 4, sections 28(3) and (4)

9.1.    These sections remove the authority of ICASA to approve telecommunications devices, if such devices are considered to be astronomy devices.  This section places such authority within the Minister’s control. 

9.2.    The sharing of these functions are an unnecessary duplication of state resources especially if the astronomy devices are in fact telecommunication devices as contemplated in the Telecommunications Act and will, in any event, be assessed by the Minister in terms of the technical specifications of the Electronic Communications Act.

9.3.    Chapter 4, section 35 – Currently Transnet operates a national railway service with further expansion planned. By way of example, Transnet is looking at extending its iron-ore capacity at Saldahna Bay to 93 million tons a year. In order to accommodate both Kumba Iron Ore and Assmang, who are opening up new mines in the Northern Cape, further rail network expansion may occur.

Transtel therefore suggests that section 35 be expanded to include a consultative process with the relevant astronomy management authority.

10.  Chapter 7, sections 50(c)(v) and (d)(ii)

10.1. The Minister may make regulations, “regulating the use of the radio frequency spectrum in advantage areas and the use of any interference source”

10.2. Do these powers not fall under the auspices of ICASA i.t.o. the ECA?



As indicated in the submission, Transtel is of the opinion that the sections highlighted would significantly impact on its business to provide mission critical services to its customers and would welcome the opportunity to interact with the Portfolio Committee to address our concerns.


With thanks.