New broadband policy for SA: industry responds

The Department of Communications (DoC) recently published the draft of a new national broadband policy for public comment, which has received a mixed response from industry.

Telecommunications industry players welcomed the general goal of the policy to increase broadband penetration in South Africa, but some raised concerns over the lack of specific implementation plan.

“Overall, we very much agree that increased access to broadband has the ability to drive economic growth and job creation,” a Vodacom spokesperson told MyBroadband. “We’re keen to work with Government to help it achieve its targets for increasing coverage.”

Telkom also welcomed the new draft national broadband policy, saying that it will “provide more clarity in respect of South Africa’s national broadband policy.”

Laurie Fialkov
Laurie Fialkov

Cybersmart CEO Laurie Fialkov was similarly welcoming of the document, but raised concerns over whether the policy would be implemented.

“Any document that advocates, in fact tries to enforce greater broadband penetration we welcome,” Fialkov said.

“Greater broadband penetration obviously increases the market that we can sell to, which in turn improves economies of scale, which results in lower prices.”

However, Fialkov argued that the recent changes to the annual license fees levied by ICASA run counter to this stated goal of the DoC:

“Saying the goal is to increase broadband penetration and to drive costs down, but dis-incentivising license holders by increasing their licensing cost, seems counter-intuitive to me.”

The other issue, Fialkov said, is enforcement of the policy. “In Cape Town, for instance, there is a ‘trench once policy.”

Fialkov said that in principle this is a good idea as it forces providers to share, but in practice not all of the important questions are dealt with:

“If you missed the opportunity to be in the trench in the first place there is no way to force the existing providers to share infrastructure that is already in the ground and even if there was a policy, what would the price be?”

Siyabonga Madyibi
Siyabonga Madyibi

Internet Solutions director of legal affairs, Siyabonga Madyibi, raised similar concerns and pointed out that the DoC is just retreading ground that had been covered before.

However, Internet Solutions said they did find positives in the policy as well.

“We are fairly happy with the proposed policy in general terms,” Madyibi said. According to Madyibi, the draft policy targets the areas that need attention in order to proliferate broadband penetration.

“It looks at last mile and the national backbone (primarily informed by industry through broadband debate), speaks to the issue of spectrum, and focuses on a co-ordinated effort to address broadband provisioning,” Madyibi said.

If implemented, he added, the policy will speed the deployment of infrastructure by removing administrative obstacles to the laying down of fibre.

This doesn’t allay their concerns over the important issues around actual implementation of the policy that haven’t been addressed, however.

“Through colloquiums and conferences, as an industry, we have been down this road before,” Madyibi said.

“Concepts in this document have been debated for a long time, so what remains the ultimate challenge is the ‘how’ and the ‘when’,” he explained.

Implementation and deadlines have not been adequately addressed, Madyibi said, adding that to them these issues remain a key priority and concern.

“Internet Solutions would like to see a sense of urgency included in the document,” Madyibi said. “Without deadlines and timelines in place, neither the public nor the private sector can plan adequately for future investments.”

Derek Hershaw - MWEB ISP CEO
Derek Hershaw – MWEB ISP CEO

Mweb ISP CEO Derek Hershaw expressed similar reservation with the new draft national broadband policy.

“The immediate impression you get on reading the document is that, like it’s predecessor, it’s intentions are all good,” Hershaw said.

However, the draft policy is glaringly light on how all these objectives are going to be met, Hershaw said.

“If Telkom is going to play such a key role in all of this then what does government plan doing with it?” he asked.

Hershaw also questioned the proposal of yet another committee to centrally co-ordinate broadband implementation across the various layers of government.

“Again: good intention but in the absence of clear guidelines as to how this will work the concern is that it will just create another hurdle to overcome and will probably end up delaying implementation,” Hershaw said.

“We’ll look to get clarity on these kinds of issues in our submission to the DoC,” Hershaw said.

Telkom, Internet Solutions, and Mweb said that they will submit responses to the draft national broadband policy, while Cybersmart said that it won’t be submitting anything.

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New broadband policy for SA: industry responds