Government unrelenting about wholesale open access network

February 23rd, 2017, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT

 

Government is unrelenting in its intention to create a wholesale open access network (WOAN).  According to the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Dr. Siyabonga Cwele, for the first time delegates have supported the introduction of the WOAN and made presentations on how it can be implemented.  This was said at what the department referred to as another successful consultation with the ICT sector on the implementation of the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper.

Dr. Siyabonga Cwele

“We are making progress 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”, said the minister.

The consultation was held on Friday, 17 February 2017, in Pretoria and was organised by the National ICT Forum created by Minister Cwele in 2015. The meeting was attended by over 300 stakeholders representing government, people with disabilities, ICT business leaders, ICT small medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), industry associations, the National Consumer Commission and labour. The event took place against the background of government’s approach to involve all role players in the restructuring of the ICT sector with the introduction of a new market structure. This is needed to empower SMMEs and other entrants into the sector.

According to Dr. Cwele, progressis 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”.

The White Paper also introduces the establishment of capacity to measure and interpret ICT statistics to track the progress the country is making towards creating a knowledge and information society. There is also a focus on ensuring that ICT infrastructure and services are universally accessible and affordable to all citizens, especially people with disabilities.

Some of the proposals discussed at the ICT Forum included the following:

  • The urgent implementation of Rapid Deployment Policy to enable a speedy deployment and rollout of infrastructure in municipalities
  • Increased competition
  • Ensure the viability of the WOAN
  • Support for access to passive infrastructure owned by the incumbents for the WOAN at a regulated cost
  • The WOAN should be majority black and women owned and controlled in line with the call for radical economic transformation
  • Existing mobile network operators’ commitment to purchase a significant amount of capacity from the WOAN
  • Explore opportunities for local and international funding
  • Prioritise rural coverage obligations (on a regional allocation and/or other joint basis).

The meeting also discussed facilitating transformation and SMME development through procurement. The delegates proposed that a minimum of 30% of government ICT spend should be set aside for BBBEE Level 1 companies in year one, increasing to 40% in year two and 51% in year three. The proposal is for these procurement targets to be applicable to state-owned companies as well. There was a proposal to scrutinise workplace transformation as the Commission on Employment Equity Report for 2015/16 reflected a drop to 14,3% in the representation of blacks in the top management structures of the sector compared to the results of 2007 when the level was 18,8%.

There was a proposal to establish a framework to ensure or promote recognition of prior learning, experiential and workplace based skills and for all ICT skills development organisations to collaborate and avoid duplication and gaps. There were discussions on facilitating dynamic regulations and on empowering the regulator to effectively oversee the sector.

“As South Africans, we have demonstrated that we can achieve great things when we work together. We encourage our big and small companies to innovate to ensure their sustainability,” said Dr. Cwele.

He said that government ICT policies encourage services competition and a reduction in infrastructure competition because it is when companies compete with the services they provide to consumers that prices can fall.

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. The Department will also identify areas where further discussions are required and facilitate the debate. The 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. “We are committed to consultations but we must speedily implement the policy because the sector is dynamic,” said Dr. Cwele.

The issue of the legal action by the minister to stop the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa from going ahead with its spectrum auction plans – which is awaiting a court hearing – was not commented on by the minister.

International experts believe that a spectrum auction is the only way forward. In no country in the world has a national WOAN succeeded in the context as proposed in the white paper. Taking away spectrum from the current mobile operators is a recipe for more legal action and endless delays in giving South Africans access to truly affordable broadband.

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