South Africa has a new National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper, but …

October 3rd, 2016, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT


Minister Siyabonga Cwele

Minister Siyabonga Cwele

South Africa has a new National Integrated ICT Policy – but after four years of drafting it has taken the cabinet six months to approve it which seems to indicate that not everyone in the cabinet is comfortable with the policy.

The Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Dr. Siyabonga Cwele said at a media briefing on 2 October 2016 that the White Paper is an integrated and holistic policy that covers the ICT and postal sectors. It sets out the framework of how government intends to provide access to modern communications infrastructure and services to facilitate the entry of new players and meaningful participation of all citizens, including those in rural areas. He also said  that the cabinet approval marks the latest milestone in South Africa’s journey towards using technology to build “a seamless information infrastructure by 2030 that will underpin a dynamic and connected vibrant information society and a knowledge economy that is more inclusive, equitable and prosperous”  as envisaged in the National Development Plan (NDP).  He said that the policy enshrines the Constitutional principles of equality, equal treatment and non-discriminatory conduct; and that it is also anchored on the vision of the NDP.

Amongst many of the issues addressed in the White Paper is the creation of wireless open access network (OAN) which will be a public-private sector-owned and managed consortium, and will consist of entities that are interested in participating. Participants may include current holders of electronic communications services (ECS) and electronic communications network service (ECNS) licences, infrastructure companies, private equity investors, SMMEs, internet service providers, over the top players and mobile virtual network operators.

On a question to the minister as to whether there is a time frame to establish the OAN, the reply was as soon as possible, but within the next year. Did the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s announcement of auctioning spectrum catch the DTPS unawares?  Hence the court order to prevent the auction by ICASA which was granted to the Minister. Then suddenly the White Paper was approved by cabinet on 26 September, six months after it was completed.  It is early days yet for the industry to comment on the 167 page document which has not yet been made generally available.

The other question posed to the minister was if there are OAN networks  which  have been implemented  successfully elsewhere  and if the proposals in the policy document were of South Africa’s own making.  The minister said that he was aware of two countries where OAN’s are operating, Rwanda and Mexico. He added that the Rwandan ONA was going places but admitted that  it was privately operated.

The minister said that the White Paper brings certainty in the market – a key ingredient as the South African government seeks to use ICTs to facilitate faster shared economic growth, improve service delivery and radically transform our society.

It is also obvious that the minister wants to curb the influence of the current operators when he said: “The participation of existing ECNS licensees will speed up the ability of the wireless OAN to meet its coverage objective. The objectives of open access networks includes creating a clear access regime that is enforceable. This will ensure that operators with significant market power do not leverage access to their infrastructure and critical resources to maintain dominance and deny market access to competition.”

This new regime necessitates a revised licensing framework to accommodate more players and open up the market for more competition. The policy approach will also promote the extension and deployment of networks in rural and underserviced areas to support inclusive economic growth. This will in turn facilitate universal service and access and meet the SA Connect targets of broadband access to all.

On spectrum management the minister said that the policy outlines spectrum management principles that will cater for existing, new and future demands.  The policy puts forward measures to support a paradigm shift towards non-exclusive assignment of highly contested spectrum in bands where demand exceeds the amount of spectrum available. The value of sharing and collaboration between licensees is that it will result in the more effective use of a scarce resource (spectrum) and the reduction of the duplication of infrastructure while facilitating services based competition.

The policy also clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the Minister and the regulator to remove institutional inefficiencies such as gaps in the spectrum management regime with regard to the alignment between national universal service objectives and the licensing of frequency spectrum resources, the setting of spectrum fees, spectrum trading, sharing, re-farming and migration.

All high demand spectrum will be assigned on an open access basis. All currently unassigned high demand spectrum will be set aside for assignment to the wireless open access network .

New powers for the minister

The policy improves the framework for universal service obligations on licensees to ensure that obligations are clearly defined, robust, proportionate to market share and are enforceable. It also outlines clear and distinct roles for the Minister, sector regulator, development funding agency and operators in achieving the universal service and access targets.

The minister is responsible for formulating policy approaches to universal service and access. All policy-related functions currently residing with the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA) will be transferred to the Minister.

Regulatory functions such as licence conditions to advance universal service and access and monitoring of rollout of networks currently residing with USAASA will be transferred to the regulator. The Universal Service and Access Fund will be replaced by the Digital Development Fund, which will focus on the extension of infrastructure, end user and equipment subsidies, supporting digital literacy and skill development, funding to extend access to digital government services, and support for innovative use of ICT by SMMEs  to improve productivity, sustainability and competitiveness.

The policy also clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the Minister and the regulator to remove institutional inefficiencies such as gaps in the spectrum management regime with regard to the alignment between national universal service objectives and the licensing of frequency spectrum resources, the setting of spectrum fees, spectrum trading, sharing, re-farming and migration.

Two regulators

The White Paper envisages two forms of regulators. One focusing on regulation of telecommunications and postal networks and services; and the other focusing on content and audio visual services. The policy proposes that a new economic regulator of ICTs be established. The new regulator will incorporate the functions of .ZADNA and other functions from the existing regulator. It would also incorporate postal services regulation. This will facilitate decisive intervention by government to achieve inclusive broadband roll-out targets it envisages

Internet unrestricted?

The Minister also referred to a policy framework for maintaining the open internet. He said that the policy introduces the principles of open internet and the net neutrality framework to ensure that all lawful and legal internet traffic is treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, regardless of the sender, receiver, content, device, service, or application. This will preserve the free internet and pre-empt possible unfair treatment by intermediaries. “Government will also facilitate development of South African search and browser applications that provide locally-oriented content. This will ensure that South Africa does not only become a consumer of search engines and browser products, as this presents economic losses and deprives South Africa of an opportunity to provide South Africa-specific content through such platforms.”

The National Integrated ICT Policy was long overdue and is a step forward but there is no doubt that the new ICT policy will meet resistance in many quarters and that much debate will be required to go forward. Many of the policies cannot be implemented before changes have been made to legal and regulatory frameworks.

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