2016 must be the year of action

During the past year, the South African communications landscape suffered from failed promise after failed promise.

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During the past year the South African communications landscape suffered from failed promise after failed promise from the both the Department of Communications (DoC) and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS), but despite the lack of active leadership and delivery from the government, the industry has moved ahead with fibre to the home and fast wireless connectivity providing broadband access to many people.

This non-delivery by government is not that surprising as the political agenda takes preference over technology decisions, and with the DTPS denuded of leadership, there are now few people available to walk the talk.

The past year saw an exodus of senior leadership in the DTPS, crowned by the suspension of Director General Rosey Sekese on 9 August 2015 which followed her being investigated by the Public Service Commission in relation to ongoing leadership challenges within the DTPS.

In late December the Public Service Commission presented the report to the minister, but the only comment from the ministerial spokesperson was that the minister was applying his mind.

It is difficult to understand what he had to apply his mind to.

Either the DG performed or she did not, and looking at the number of senior people she fired, or who left of their own accord, the decision should be simple – or so one may think.

Project Rapid Deployment was announced by DTPS in July 2015, aimed at simplifying the deployment of infrastructure.

A report from an independent consultant was published in August 2015.

When I interviewed the minister at SATNAC in September 2015 he said that the final report and action plan would be completed in November 2015.

No one knows at what stage it is currently. The aim of the project was to simplify the wayleave process and remove unnecessary obstacles engineered by some municipalities either for political or financial reasons.

In January 2015 the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) was restructured – and it was required that the delegation of authority of various officials be aligned to the new way of operating.

A year later, such delegation is still not in place. We must give credit to ICASA officials who worked together to keep projects moving. I

t is however absurd that a project of a new grouping has to be approved by the head of a previous grouping.

The International Telecommunications Union target date to complete digital migration of the TV services came and went six months ago.

It is doubly ironic that South Africa was part of the decision making and agreed to the date, and that the SABC has had its transmitting infrastructure ready for a switch over for a long time.

Despite all this not happening, the industry has performed well and has moved ahead. The mobile operators have been robbing Peter to pay Paul to introduce LTE services.

They had to re-farm frequencies used for voice services to introduce fast data services, undoubtedly to the detriment of the quality of the voice service.

How much better would it have been if ICASA had been able to make more spectrum available? Perhaps ICASA, DoC and DTPS were waiting for decisions to be taken at the World Radio Conference 2015 which took place in November 2015.

It is now two months after the final decision document was published, so it is not unreasonable to expect 2016 to be a year of action.

While President Jacob Zuma seems to be in the mood for cabinet changes, he should seriously consider leaving politics out of the communication department, and create one department headed by an experienced technologist with the brief to get South Africa back into the world communication scene.

Source: EE Publishers

More on telecoms in South Africa

The African ICT landscape: Six trends to watch in 2016

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