The department of communications’ policy summit next week has generally been welcomed by analysts and industry players, who say the event is long overdue, especially in light of Africa slipping down world connectedness rankings.
Communications minister Dina Pule said on Tuesday that the colloquium had been called to review all government policies related to information and communications technology (ICT) in SA and could culminate in the biggest policy overhaul since the mid-1990s.
The event, which will be held at Gallagher Estate in Midrand on 19 and 20 April, is open to all interested parties, provided they pre-register.
Marian Shinn, the Democratic Alliance shadow minister of communications, says a review of government’s ICT policies is long overdue because “whatever government has been doing over the past 18 years, it has clearly failed to support the growth of the sector and put in place the communications infrastructure that is critical to economic growth”.
She says she was not made aware of the colloquium prior to the public announcement.
Shinn says SA is “falling off the radar in terms of ICT progress”. Referring to a recent World Economic Forum report, she says it’s worrying that SA was ranked 72nd overall when as recently as 2004 it was 34th.
“I get the impression government has little comprehension about the critical nature of ICT,” Shinn says. “It seems to be in the luxury class compared to basic infrastructure, like water and sanitation — but none of the infrastructure roll out or the commerce and service delivery that will use that infrastructue can be effective unless the ICT nervous system is in place to enable it to be planned, built and used effectively.”
Shinn says she trusts Pule has invited the industry’s most important players and that their views will be taken to heart. She adds that government will hopefully work with “speed and vigour” in order to grow the sector and the economy.
The DA is concerned that unless the colloquium outlines a clear plan of action, it could produce suggestions rather than results. “This must not just be another talk shop that goes nowhere or is bent to serve only the ANC’s developmental state agenda,” says Shinn.
“The economy cannot grow unless it has the ICT nervous system to support it,” she adds. “Unless the economy grows, there will be no increase in jobs and the resultant poverty alleviation.”
Denis Smit, MD at consulting and research house BMI-TechKnowledge, echoes Shinn’s concerns. “We’ve had lots of colloquia; it’s what comes out of it in the end that matters.”
He agrees there is a need for a “policy and sector revamp”.
He says Pule is under pressure from Trevor Manuel’s National Planning Commission to overhaul government’s ICT policies and that being new to her position she is also eager to “make a mark”.
Smit says some of the issues he hopes to see covered at the colloquium are the “structures of the industry”, broadband stimulation initiatives, funding of infrastructure and a revisit of the Electronic Communications Act, the legislation that governs the sector.
“The act has been useful in some ways but, like the Icasa Act, it has clear limitations,” says Smit. “Both need to be looked at critically. The horizontal licensing regime that the Electronic Communications Act introduced was great and allowed for growth in the mobile industry, but the full potential of the act hasn’t been realised”.
Smit says the act lacks provisions for the necessary relationships with other departments to contend with issues like land rights. He says legislation needn’t necessarily be entirely overhauled but that it needs revision that will bring it in line with contemporary SA’s ICT needs.
Chantel Lindeman, business unit leader for ICT Africa at analyst firm Frost & Sullivan, says the colloquium is well timed in light of the recent World Economic Forum report and she hopes the “right players” will be in attendance. She says the first she heard of it was after the public announcement on Tuesday.
Lindeman says indications are that Pule is working hard to get a handle on the ICT landscape and its inadequacies. She says the minister has had a number of one-on-one meetings with operators, with Internet service providers and with Telkom regarding their respective concerns. This “bodes well”, she says.
According to Lindeman, SA’s ICT policies are no longer as advanced as those in Kenya, Ghana and Senegal and this is “worrying”. She says key issues that the colloquium should address include expediting local-loop unbundling — whereby Telkom’s competitors are given access to the operator’s last-mile of copper-cable infrastructure – and spectrum allocation issues that, while often discussed, still to be resolved.
“A number of operators have also raised concerns about Icasa becoming a standalone entity standing apart from the department of communications,” Lindeman says. “This will allow Icasa to regulate independently of the department.”
Lindeman says she would also like Pule to consider separating Telkom’s wholesale and retail businesses but this seems unlikely in the near future. — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media