Government’s national integrated ICT policy white paper is “monopolistic on a fundamental level”, is unconstitutional in parts and “entrenches ministerial intervention over critical components” of the ICT sector.
This is the warning from the Democratic Alliance, whose spokeswoman for telecommunications & postal services, Marian Shinn, said the policy will “fail in its immediate objective to bridge the digital divide and bring affordable, ubiquitous communications infrastructure and services to all South Africans in a world that is increasingly reliant on stable infrastructure to conduct business that attracts investment and creates jobs”.
The white paper, Shinn said, will “give rise to crony-heavy bureaucracies with powers to impose ceiling-less taxes on the sector and dispense government largesse”.
“We have no doubt that this white paper is simply to rush to meet the deadlines of [the broadband policy]South Africa Connect, whose second deadline of delivering Internet speeds of 5Mbit/s to 90% of the population by 2020 looms. It was supposed to reach 50% of the population this year,” she said in a statement.
“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 is socialist agenda,” Shinn added.
“It also thumbs its nose at international best practice 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.”
Shinn said 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, she said. “The wholesale wireless open-access network 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.”
Shinn predicted that MTN and Vodacom will take government all the way to the constitutional court, if needed, to “protect their 10-year, R122bn 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 South Africa Connect, whose first deliverables are due in 2020 — the year following the 2019 general election.”
She added 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 South Africa Connect infrastructure roll-out 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.”
She said the white paper “simply cannot be allowed to prevail as it threatens the development of our telecoms infrastructure that will have dire consequences for investment and job creation in a world which increasingly relies on technology to do business every day”. — © 2016 NewsCentral Media