According to Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Dr. Siyabonga Cwele, progress is being made towards implementing the new ICT Policy. “Our preference for consultation is yielding the desired results because we are edging closer to an agreement on how best we speedily implement this very important policy,” he said.
This statement was released by the minister after a meeting of the National Communication Forum held on 17 February 2017. The meeting was attended by over 300 stakeholders representing government, people with disabilities, ICT business leaders, ICT SMMEs, industry associations, the National Consumer Commission, and labour.
It is difficult to comprehend what the minister and his staff are thinking. He said that the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services will process all the inputs as they develop the Implementation Plan of the White Paper before submitting it to Cabinet. According to Minister Cwele, the department will also identify areas where further discussions are required and facilitate the debate. Its aim is to finalise the Implementation Plan by the end of March 2017 and start implementing aspects of the policy that do not require legislative changes soon thereafter.
In a recent statement by the Free Market Foundation (FMF), it was said that the industry is reeling from shock after discovering that the four-year process, from initial discussions to white paper, has resulted in a policy that would radically reorganise a successful private industry and could damage mobile user experience and access to the latest technologies.
In December 2016 Minister Cwele said that there would be no further consultation and that the details were a done deal, and that, going forward, implementation only was on the table for discussion. In effect, “put up, shut up and get on with it”. But, it appears that the department has no implementation plan and is looking for proposals from the industry. For the big six mobile operators, this is like asking turkeys to plan Christmas.
So what was decided would be part of the implementation plan?
The only tangible part of the plan is urgent implementation of Rapid Deployment Policy to enable a speedy deployment and rollout of infrastructure in municipalities. This is something that the industry has been engaging the minister on since his appointment in 2014. Analyses Mason were appointed and delivered a report to the Minister in August 2015. The Minister then announced he would take further action in November of that year, but in 2016 it found its way into the ICT Policy white paper.
The FMF was right when it said that industry insiders believe this policy is headed for the courts, which would then tie the industry up in many years of litigation.
Does the minister and his compatriots really believe that the mobile operators will give up spectrum willingly, and make their infrastructure available for a WOAN at a regulated cost?
Minister Cwele, please think again for the sake of the future of communication in South Africa. Let the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa get on with its spectrum auction plans. It’s the right thing to do.
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