“The use of public-private partnerships has never worked in South Africa,” Pakamile Pongwana, head of regulatory affairs at Vodacom, told attendees of a South African Communications Forum breakfast event in Sandton.
Pongwana was addressing Minister of Communications, Dina Pule, and CEO of state-owned Broadband Infraco, Puleng Sejanamane, after it was suggested that municipalities should roll out their own network infrastructure.
“I think municipalities should focus on fixing the roads and potholes,” Knott-Craig said.
The Minister interjected, saying that that is another problem.
Pongwana, who was a deputy director general at the Department of Communications between 2000 and 2005, said that government involvement in the sector has yet to see success.
“I know for a fact that Ekhuruleni Municipality spent R1.2bn on a fibre network that is not being used,” Pongwana said.
While public-private partnerships in the telecommunications sector have never worked, Pongwana said that there are models out there that have been made to work.
Using Germany as an example, Pongwana said that when operators were licensed with 800MHz spectrum, it was on the condition that they roll out in rural areas first.
Only after those areas were covered would government allow operators to roll out in the rest of the country, Pongwana explained.
He added that since he was in the DoC, state-owned signal distributor Sentech has never received the budget it required. “It was always lower,” he said.
Sentech was tasked with rolling out a wireless broadband network, which it called MyWireless, but shut down the service in 2009.
The signal distributor now sits on 50MHz of prime spectrum real estate in the 2.6GHz band which mobile operators are champing at the bit to use for their high-speed Long Term Evolution (LTE) roll-outs.
ICASA, the telecommunications regulator, suggested towards the end of 2011 that Sentech’s assignment in the band be migrated to better align the band with the recommendation made by International Telecommunications Union.
Many industry players have lobbied for Sentech’s assignment to be taken away entirely, but ICASA’s proposal involves giving the state-owned enterprise (SOE) a chunk of precious spectrum in the 800MHz band as well.
This is so the signal distributor could roll out and operate a national wholesale network. A second wholesale network, which may be operated by a private sector company with the necessary license, would be in competition with Sentech.
Pongwana expressed concern that broadband may just not be where the state’s competency is.
After an interjection from the Minister, he clarified by emphasising that he isn’t saying that SOE’s are incompetent, but that it’s a matter of focus.
Sentech’s continual lack of funding makes it difficult for the company to operate the country’s terrestrial TV and radio broadcasting network as well as roll out and maintain a national broadband network.