The department of communications has set out a case for more muscular government involvement in the telecommunications industry to help ensure that access to broadband becomes universal in South Africa.
The department’s chief director for ICT policy, Norman Munzhelele, argues that the market had not delivered services to all South Africans. He was speaking at an industry and government workshop on broadband in Midrand on Tuesday.
“We cannot afford to have what we see today. We have allowed the market to dictate what needs to happen since 1993. But the market has not delivered to the majority of the people,” Munzhelele says. “We need to think differently if we are to deliver broadband to the people.”
Government will continue to be a “critical investor in the development of broadband networks,” he says. “State-owned companies are central in delivering wholesale broadband networks. Wholesale, open-access networks are key to creating a level playing field.”
However, he emphasises that the private sector also plays a crucial role and that government will “support and encourage” investment by industry in international, national and local access networks.
In particular, he says government wants to work with the private sector to build a national broadband network (NBN), similar to projects underway in countries such as Australia and Canada.
“The NBN must address two aspects: improving broadband capacity in high economic impact areas and providing capacity to the general population, especially in rural and underserviced areas,” Munzhelele says.
“The network will operate on open-access [principles] to encourage services competition,” he adds. “[The Independent Communications Authority of SA] will have to design a regulatory model as to how this network will be shared and how it will be priced.”
A special committee will also be created to facilitate all approvals required in the deployment of the wholesale network.
In order to address the cost of civil works, municipalities must develop new bylaws or amend existing bylaws in support of the “dig-once principle”. Munzhelele says national building regulations should be amended to ensure that broadband networks are an integral part of any new construction work. A national standard on network roll-out should be developed.
Government will create measures to encourage private-sector players to build high-speed fibre-optic infrastructure into homes and businesses. “We are an investment-friendly country, so we encourage investment in broadband networks,” he says.
On the allocation of radio frequency spectrum for wireless broadband, Munzhelele says this will be done in a way that promotes universal service and access, competition, black economic empowerment and affordability.
Government will implement “regulatory measures” to promote access to publicly and privately owned servitudes. “All major publicly funded utility infrastructures, such as electricity, has to include the building either of ducts, or fibre in that infrastructure, so anyone who wants to provide services can use what is available,” he said. “There is a need to fast-track the finalisation of the rapid deployment [of infrastructure] guidelines on electronic communications facilities.”
Munzhelele says a broadband policy will be gazetted after cabinet approval, which is expected before the end of the current financial year, which ends in March 2013. “We will then develop a broadband implementation plan.” — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media