Following the approval of National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper by Cabinet, the Democratic Alliance has opposed the decision on the basis that digital divide and affordable services to all South African will not be realised.
Speaking at a media briefing in Pretoria, Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) minister, Siyabonga Cwele, said the new ICT Policy will play a key role in facilitating how government bridges the digital divide.
But the DA’s Member of Parliament, Marian Shinn, argue that the white paper is monopolistic, unconstitutional in parts, entrenches ministerial intervention over critical components of the dynamic and innovative ICT sector and gives rise to crony-heavy bureaucracies.
“We have no doubt that this white paper is simply to rush to meet the deadlines of South Africa Connect, whose second deadline of delivering Internet speeds of 5Mbps to 90% of the population by 2020 looms,” said Shinn. “It was supposed to reach 50% of the population this year. In places the policy is at odds with the National Development Plan, in whose name it claims to act, and changes internationally accepted definitions to suit its socialist agenda. It also thumbs its nose at international best practise in spectrum management and assignment.”
“Details of its most contentious policies – the national wireless network and spectrum management – were not included in the three-year public consultation process.”
According to Shinn, the policy gives instructions to rapidly action its most radical decisions and change laws and regulations to fall into line with this policy, the latter will take years to identify and process.The most radical component of the policy is to have a monopolistic, price-regulated wholesale mobile network consortium with exclusive access to all the nation’s spectrum. Competition will happen only at the service level,” Shinn said.
Shinn further said that on the issue of spectrum, the wholesale Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) will be a communally managed consortium of communications licence holders, investors, Internet service providers, and others who will operate with ‘competitive neutrality’.
“Failure by mobile network operators to join the network and contribute their infrastructure, spectrum and intellectual property and agreeing to have their financial operations vetted, means they will have no access to additional spectrum or other government ‘incentives’, such as low or no spectrum fees, and access to government facilities for network infrastructure. They must gradually surrender the spectrum they already have. Those who don’t join will have their lifeblood cut off.”
“Major mobile network operators MTN and Vodacom will probably go all the way to the Constitutional Court on this issue as they fight to protect their 10-year R122 billion investment from communal ownership for the ‘public good’.
“This means that government will be unable to harness the networks to deliver broadband to the rural areas to meet the objectives of the broadband policy SA Connect, whose first deliverables are due in 2020 – the year following the 2019 general election,” she states.
Shinn also notes that the fixed-line infrastructure market – of which Telkom has 86% – is largely left untouched in this move to expropriate network infrastructure and intellectual property.”
“The policy will also fail to bring down the cost of communication. Increasing levies – with no ceiling in sight – on licence holders to finance government funding gaps of SA Connect infrastructure rollout as well as equip marginalised communities with skills and devices to participate in the information society, will be passed on to consumers. The lack of competition in the wholesale network will inevitably lead to cost inefficiencies and service degradation.”
“There is much that is worthwhile in the policy that will benefit the sector’s growth and ICT delivery to all South Africa. The Rapid Deployment Guidelines belong here.
“But there is much that has not been subjected to the three-year consultation process – such as the WOAN and plans for spectrum management that will have been sneaked in the backdoor that the credibility of the entire document is devalued.”
“This white paper simply cannot be allowed prevail as it threatens the development of our telecommunications infrastructure that will have dire consequences for investment and job creation in a world which increasingly relies on technology to do business every day,” concluded Shinn.
The new policy replaces the separate white papers on telecommunication (1996) and postal services (1998).