Communications Minister Dina Pule on Thursday announced that the Department of Communications (DoC) was embarking on a process to overhaul the South African information and communications technology (ICT) policies.
The DoC, while engaging industry, aimed to realign its policies with the government’s developmental goals and to provide a platform for South African companies to further develop the sector to compete globally.
In line with the department’s Vision 2020, the shift from an evolutionary policy design to more integrated and comprehensive ICT policies would support the DoC’s aims of achieving 100% broadband coverage and increased access for rural areas. It also aimed to push South Africa’s ICT exports to 30%, create one-million jobs and ensure a gross domestic product contribution of 10%.
A discussion document compiled by the DoC found that only 4 out of 100 households used broadband, compared with Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, which average 23.3 fixed broadband subscribers per 100 households.
Further, it found that the DoC’s draft broadband policy, which was intended to facilitate growth, did not adequately deal with a number of challenges including market structure and the regulatory environment. The document also noted that South Africa had limited ICT infrastructure, with low-to-average broadband speed capabilities and low broadband penetration, limited ICT skills and limited granting of new ICT licences.
In the telecommunications sector, historically disadvantaged individuals remained under-represented, while the development of rural areas remained one of the most significant challenges.
For the ICT sector to achieve 100% broadband access and create one-million jobs, significant investment in broadband infrastructure, services and content was required.
Pule said that the department was expected to review and consolidate all policies on broadcasting services in the digital environment; broadband and Internet access; a spectrum licensing framework for the country’s development; new regulatory areas in all of these; funding and investment; e-skills development; local content development and ICT market growth.
The National Integrated ICT policy, which was expected to be complete by 2013 and implemented in 2014, would retain the elements of the policies that worked, and revise and replace the aspects of the legislation that were irrelevant and stunted economic growth.
Pule said this was the first step in defining a ‘new era’ in ICTs taking South Africa to 2030.
Telkom CEO Pinky Moholi said that the country was unable to future-proof regulations in the ever-changing ICT sector, but it could at least ensure the sector’s legislation and policies were future-friendly.
Vodacom CEO Pieter Uys agreed that the future could not be predicted, adding that the past three years had seen the South African telecommunications sector change dramatically.
He added that increased collaboration and partnership between the public and private sectors were essential going forward.
Uys also commented that the country needed to take a step back to assess the sector globally and align the local industry to international practices.
New Cell C CEO Alan Knott-Craig noted that South Africa was going backwards and the industry and government needed to examine its failures.
He said that South Africa was previously rated number one in Africa and number five in the world for its telecommunications sector. The country now stood at number 73 globally.
Increased attention was required in providing quality, low-priced, high-speed broadband with 100% coverage. Further, despite the fact that the prices for connection in South Africa were ‘good’, the country needed to drop its prices by half, he said.
He further noted that development in the next three years would set the precedent for the future sector development into 2020/30 and the country needed to ‘change its game’ now.