Government set to force implementation of ICT White Paper

February 17th, 2017, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT

 

Dr. Siyabonga Cwele, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday 15 February 2017 during the State of the Nation debate, the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Dr. Siyabonga Cwele said  that the government will use open access networks and our natural resource, spectrum, as strategic levers to induce real transformation and lowering of barriers to entry for blacks, small businesses and marginalised groups. He was referring to the ICT White paper published in September 2016. “We are using this policy lever to deconcentrate this industry. We have been heartened by the positive inputs from the industry during the consultations we have conducted since November 2016 on how best we implement this white paper. Those who are currently excluded are not vengeful. They brought the most innovative proposals to implement our policy without destroying the sector. This confirms the President’s assertion that it is not about taking from the ‘haves’ but sharing with the ‘have-nots’. We will finalise consultations soon in order to prioritise the implementation and introduce necessary legislative and regulatory changes without delay.”

This is in sharp contrast to the views expressed at a public meeting organised by the Free Market  Foundation (FMF) on 25 January 2017 where Leon Louw, executive director of the FMF, along with Dobek Pater of Africa Analysis, presented a review of the white paper and said that the National Integrated ICT Policy White paper – besides many other negative issues –  is legally flawed and does not meet the requirements of the Constitution.

Louw said that there are aspects in the white paper that have been added after the publication of the green paper which were not subjected to public consultation. “In addition, government did not meet its own requirements that a new policy should be subjected to social and economic impact studies.” He said that it  interesting that government sets up a requirement and then proceeds without following it. “There are other constitutional requirements such as the separation of power which seem to have been totally ignored in the new policy, and which in December the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services said would go ahead.”

The Minister reiterated his December statement in Parliament yesterday but failed to expand with details on how he intends to execute his plans.

“There is  a world-wide phenomenon where ICT is headed to a more competitive market-based position and where the incentives are to stay at the cutting edge of new technology. The FMF would like to see our market be competitive and the incentives positive. The white paper is not heading South Africa in the direction the FMF believes its ICT policy should go,” Louw said.

The Minister further said that in October 2016, the  ICT Sector Council finalised new ICT Sector Codes, which are now operational. These sector codes move beyond share ownership and management control to prioritise other areas such as enterprise development, preferential procurement as well as skills development. “The ICT Sector Council is assisting the industry to improve compliance and to eliminate fronting. Our council is currently doing provincial roadshows to assist the beneficiaries to take advantage of the new opportunities presented by the ANC government state-owned companies to implement them in line with the provisions of the law.  “The aim is to connect government offices to expedite delivery of services to our citizens. It also aims to bring these services closer to our communities so that they can be exploited by local businesses and citizens.

“With regard to the bigger Phase II broadband rollout to the rest of the country, later this year we will be going to raise funds through partnerships with the private sector as part of our Invest SA 40 priority projects. Since 2014, our state-owned companies have invested in broadband infrastructure in rural areas. For example, Broadband Infraco is using its points of presence to connect local SMMEs to the network to provide services to end-users. Black owned companies such as Galela and Mzinyathi provide services in the under-serviced areas of Dr. Kenneth Kaunda and Mzinyathi districts, respectively. This will allow smaller businesses to create new local jobs.”

He also said that our youth have realised the power of using internet for their development. “We have heard their plea to make data affordable as it is still relatively high compared to our peers. We agree with them that data prices must come down.”  As to how to achieve this he said that the real fall of data costs will be realised when more players and SMMEs  compete in giving services to the people as advocated by the new ICT policy.

The Minister has a big dream: “We are doing all these measures to enable our people to exploit the internet economy and prepare them to extract the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). For instance, new technologies such as new designs of energy storage will make renewable energy more affordable and sustainable to provide electricity to rural communities. The 4IR requires us to prioritise mathematics and science education. It dictates that we must skill and re-skill our workforce in order to minimise potential job losses as a result of robotics. We need to upscale investment in research and innovation and our entrepreneurial capacity.”

Dr. Cwele made no mention of his court intervention preventing the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) going ahead with the spectrum auction. In the view of many, the case should be dismissed and ICASA should be allowed to continue with its auction process. Some internet service providers may see the white paper as a way to make some quick gains but ultimately South Africans will all be the losers should its provisions be implemented without substantial modification to maintain a competitive environment. The concept of a national broadband network has not proved successful in any major country.

The FMF has urged industry to stand up against the Ministry and the white paper. “Should the policy as proposed be implemented we can expect some serious litigation which could carry on for several years”, said  Louw. ”While the world moves ahead and enjoys the freedom of broadband, South Africans will only dream about it.”

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