South African national broadband network speculation

Is government planning to establish a national broadband network (NBN) for South Africa? This could be the reason why the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) has taken the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to court for initiating an auction for broadband spectrum.

While Minister Siyabonga Cwele did not directly speak about an NBN, one of the speakers at the SatNac discussed the advantages of such a network.

During a panel discussion at Telkom’s SATNAC 2016 in George, Western Cape, the minister was asked if he can see a way in which the hard line taken by his department in taking ICASA to court to stop the auction of spectrum could be settled out of court.

He said that it is now for the courts to consider the matter and make a ruling. He did not elaborate on the reasons for his department’s attempt to prevent ICASA from auctioning spectrum, but if government is planning an NBN that would be the obvious motivation.

The DTPS would want access to all the spectrum in order to create a state-owned network on which companies could offer their services. Talk of an NBN is not new.

When Alan Knott Craig was the CEO of Cell C he proposed such a move which was later discounted by the CEO that followed him on his retirement.

Delivering the opening address at SATNAC, the Minister said that the internet of things (IOT) is the main driver of the fourth Industrial Revolution.

This revolution will bring enormous benefits to those who will harness and actively participate in it, while punishing or disciplining those who choose to ignore or resist it. He said that people must adapt. This revolution will not only change what we do but also who we are.

He said that it will change consumer patterns and change our notions of privacy and ownership, and that government must adapt as the physical, digital and biological world converge and new technology platforms enable citizens to engage rather than being mere recipients.

The minister’s statement is ironic as the white paper on boadband has been with cabinet for approval for the past five months.

He also said that government will be required to adopt softer regulations and adopt technology to improve service delivery.

Another indication that government is planning an NBN, and that the internet of things is an open platform offering worldwide access and particpation for all.

Meaningful participation in this world is through high-level technical education, imagination and hard work.

Regarding the national development plan (NDP), he said that South Africa needs to invest in a strong network of economic infrastructure designed to support the country’s medium and long-term economic and social objectives.

This economic infrastructure is a precondition for providing basic services such as electricity, water, sanitation, telecommunications and public transport, and it needs to be robust and extensive enough to meet industrial, commercial and households needs.

Government has identified information and communication technologies and broadband rollout as one of the enablers for faster and more equitable economic growth, as evidenced by its inclusion in the nine-point plan.

The minister said that the department is charged with implementing the NDP by focusing on the goal of creating a seamless information infrastructure by 2030 that will underpin a dynamic, connected and vibrant information society; and a knowledge economy that is more inclusive, equitable and prosperous.

Key to this is ensuring that all citizens have access to modern communications infrastructure, tools and services by means of broadband and a fast, reliable and secure internet.

He stated that this is being doing this in line with the constitutional principle that precludes the state from unfairly discriminating against any citizen, including discrimination on the basis of social origin.

According to the minister, a broadband war room has been established to fast-track the rollout of South Africa Connect, the country’s broadband policy.

A product of the government’s coordinated implementation plan through the cluster system, the war room brings together all the departments that are responsible for broadband.

Cwele said that this is being coordinated at the implementation level through provincial broadband steering committees that seek to align all broadband activities to South Africa Connect and remove bottlenecks that impede an accelerated rollout.

In the future, it is hoped to coordinate business because government’s efforts to reimagine the future include modernising policies that govern the ICT sector.

Amongst others, this will guide participation in an inclusive growth and digital economy.

After following a process of consultations throughout the country with all stakeholders, the minister said that a draft National Integrated Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Policy White Paper is before the cabinet for consideration and finalisation.

He thanked all the stakeholders who contributed to the process that started in 2012.

The minister said that the white paper seeks to create an environment that, amongst others, enables universal access to modern communications tools and services, thereby opening up opportunities for new and smaller businesses and facilitating competition in the sector in a manner that ultimately reduces the costs.

He added that the internet of things also poses some significant challenges, especially those that are linked to internet governance.

South Africa’s position on internet governance is that it supports the multi-stakeholder approach, in their respective roles, that is coordinated within the framework of multilateral structures of global governance.

The minister said it is envisaged that government would lead these multi-stakeholders in the policy arena.

As far as the white paper is concerned, ICASA may have had insight into a draft and decided that they did not like the direction government is taking, and decided to take action before it is too late.

There is not necessarily anything wrong with a national broadband network but then government should keep out of it and let it be owned by a consortium of businesses, including the current players.

Source: EE Publishers

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South African national broadband network speculation