The ANC wants scarce radio frequency spectrum to be made available to new players seeking to provide telecommunications services and it also wants to increase competition in the broadcasting industry, especially in pay television.
These are two of the key points raised in the ruling party’s “communications policy discussion document”, released in March, ahead of next week’s policy conference.
According to the document, “serious gaps” have constrained the information and communications technology (ICT) sector’s ability to meet the needs of South Africans, especially the rural and urban poor. “Part of the reason behind this is limited consumer choice due to limited competition in the telecoms and broadcasting markets, especially the pay-TV market.”
The document makes a number of proposals to increase competition. Among them, it proposed the “equitable allocation of the frequency spectrum” to new licensees, including small, medium and micro enterprises. These should come with obligations to achieve universal coverage and should seek to promote broad-based black economic empowerment with a minimum of 30% to 50% direct ownership and control of ICT and broadcasting companies by 2020.
The ANC document also calls for government to set aside spectrum for wholesale services and open-access networks to be built by state-owned operators Sentech and Broadband Infraco, which should be merged to form a new company. The merged entity should “provide modern communication services to government departments, municipalities, schools, hospitals, clinics, police stations, multi-purpose community centres and courts”, and excess capacity should be used to “further connect rural areas to help achieve full access to high-speed Internet networks by 2030”.
It also proposes that government should provide capital to new operators to provides services to underserviced communities, with them enjoying a preferential interconnect rate with established operators. “Access to digital infrastructure — or, more specifically, high-speed Internet access — must be considered a basic utility for South Africans.”
The national treasury and the developmental finance institutions should also be set aside to fund the roll-out of broadband as a national priority, the document says. Unused spectrum should also be reallocated “where necessary”.
“It is ANC policy to support the convergence of technologies and services [but]the regulation of the ICT sector in the converged environment should not lead to the creation of consolidated vertical and horizontal monopolies or to the abuse of dominance by the existing operators,” it says. “Competition rules and regulations dealing with opening the market to competition will be prioritised.”
Turning to broadcasting, the ANC discussion document says regulation of the pay-TV market “has not produced the desired competition”.
“There is a need to relook at the behaviour of the dominant players, access to premium content, including sports rights, and access to critical infrastructure by the competitors in this sector, to enable the entry of new pay-TV services during the [analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting]migration process, and new free-to-air players after switchover in 2015,” it says.
It also wants an increased focus on local content, suggesting local content quotas imposed on the SABC and commercial operators are not sufficient and it says SA has among the “lowest content obligations in the whole world”. A review of broadcasting policy should seek to “fast-track the local content development industry [and a]review of local content quotas must be aligned to this strategy”.
“There is a need to review the broadcasting system and policy framework in its entirety before 2015 to identify the gaps and barriers that have prevented the realisation of some of the important goals as well as plan for new services,” the document says. “This should culminate in a new, forward-looking broadcasting policy to coincide with switchover by 2015.”
In line with this, the discussion document calls for the SABC to be restructured to prioritise public services in the digital age and for the broadcaster to receive more public funding.
“The public broadcasting system should not be allowed to lag behind the commercial sector in terms of technological innovations,” it says. “In this regard, any future strategy of the SABC must position the broadcaster as a leader in the uptake and use of new technologies, including mobile television and Internet protocol television.”
The document also makes a number of proposals to improve technology skills in the country and recommends that “e-skills” should be a “compulsory subject in all public schools” so that young people are “not abused by bogus training institutions in their quest to acquire much sought-after e-skills”.
The curriculum should focus on end-user computing and should encourage young people to pursue careers in the ICT industry. — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media
- See our earlier coverage of this story: ANC wants overhaul of the ICT sector
- The ANC’s policy conference takes place from 26 to 29 June at Gallagher Estate in Midrand