DA slams 'socialist' ICT policy white paper - TechCentral

DA slams ‘socialist’ ICT policy white paper

Marian Shinn

Marian Shinn

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

9 Comments

  1. Andrew Fraser on

    “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’”.”

    I have no doubt that MTN and Vodacom will do exactly this, but I’d be wary about talking about their largesse in investing R122bn when they have had an effective government-supported monopoly for 20 years and have profits way exceeding that investment. Also, government is not nationalising their investment in infrastructure, but rather the spectrum itself.

    The current licensing scheme is asymmetrical and while the ICT white paper may be unworkable in its current guise, limiting the growth of the duopoly on the back of poor licensing decisions is a step in the right direction.

  2. Perhaps a compromise – make the open access network a provincial / municipal mandate but with common standards to adhere to, just like roads and other shared infrastructure?

  3. Good idea, Peter. This is what Lot A in the spectrum ITA could have been used for. Do a pilot project of a regional WOAN, see what works best for SA, rather than risk our entire network infrastructure on an unproven concept

  4. I must say that I’m not surprised that the DA would rather support a capitalist approach that benefits only the ‘have’ rather than a socialist approach that benefits the majority of the people. So what’s wrong with government taking a socialist approach in this White Paper? Should government continue to make policy that empowers only the few and entrenches their market dominance at a cost of others, using the govt resource? This is a battle between the dominant players and small players without or with limited resources,as well as new entrants. The white paper makes a point on how the spectrum will be managed to benefit all and to level the playing field,it doesn’t take away anything from anyone so I don’t understand what the apparent court battle will be about. We’ve spent time complaining about inefficiencies of the current market structure, and open access network is a perfect solution to adress these inefficiencies and to lower cost of communication services that are currently determined by the two arrogant market players

  5. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    >>The current licensing scheme is asymmetrical and while the ICT white
    paper may be unworkable in its current guise, limiting the growth of the
    duopoly on the back of poor licensing decisions is a step in the right
    direction.

    Fair enough and I’m sure that we can all agree that SA is not lacking in policies with wonderful ideas that have good intentions but implementation is bound to always fall into the wrong hands; and I would rather go with the same “old round wheel” for licensing spectrum… I really have serious reservations about trying something NEW with spectrum licensing at this juncture.

  6. Greg Mahlknecht on

    If government were competent and we could be confident they’d deliver a good open access solution, there might be a case to go that way, however they’ve proven time and again they’re not up to the task of overseeing a project like this, so while the capitalist solution might have problems, it’s the only viable option at this stage, sadly.

  7. Greg Mahlknecht on

    Why not do half open access, and sell the rest to the highest bidder? The money made from the auction can be used to kickstart the building of the open access network. If government is so confident it’s going to work so well, they shouldn’t be afraid of competing with the incumbents. The two solutions should be complimentary, keeping each other honest.

  8. Radio technology is changing rapidly with increases spectrum efficiency, lower technology costs, and new approaches to spectrum management. Demand for spectrum is rising, driving up the price operators are willing to pay for exclusive access to spectrum. There is a huge amount of uncertainty around the future of spectrum management and wireless technology in general. What does any smart investor do in an uncertain market? Diversify. The government spectrum strategy ought to do the same. It should principally be concerned with the risk profile of the strategy. It should:
    a) increase access to unlicensed spectrum in the 5GHz and higher bands, creating more scope for wireless ISPs;
    b) open up dynamic spectrum regulation but not just in the sub-700MHz TV bands but also in 3.5GHz (Google is trialling this in the US). Consider industry self-regulation via dynamic spectrum in the 3.5GHz band. The CSIR has already developed the technology to implement this. WAPA or ISPA could take on that role.;
    c) launch a wholesale wireless network in the 700MHz band aimed at rural broadband (probably not the whole band, perhaps just the 30MHz ICASA was proposing). The devil is in the details on this but I think it is too interesting not to try. Consider a 700MHz network (something like Smile or Tangerine’s 800MHz network in Uganda) that offered dongle-based rural access to data. Combined with an affordable national backhaul fibre network (something else that needs addressing), you have a vehicle for any ISP to become a national ISP;
    d) auction high-value spectrum to MNOs. Some 700/800MHz spectrum and 2.6GHz.

    A diversified spectrum strategy is the only plausible one.

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