Affordable Broadband for all

The Department of Communications (DoC) recently released the draft version of its South African Broadband Policy aimed at increasing the accessibility and affordability of broadband throughout South Africa.

In the document the DoC states that the objective of the policy is “To facilitate the provisioning of affordable access to Broadband infrastructure to citizens, business and government and also stimulate the usage of Broadband services at national, provincial and municipal levels.” The DoC further said that its key objectives are:  ‘to build the information society’, ‘to increase affordability’and ‘to increase uptake and usage’.

While these objectives are commendable the draft policy is thin on detail, failing to define what is meant by either ‘broadband’ or ‘affordable’, and not providing clear measurable and timelines to meet the policies objectives.

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says that he draft broadband policy makes all the right noises, but lurking within the lofty ideals is a warning sign about implementing dazzling visions.  “The document starts with the statement that the Government ‘approved the building of an information society’ back in 2007. Two years later, we are no closer to a Government-driven implementation of plans for an information society,” Goldstuck points out.

“The message is clear: we have had words and documents coming at us for years; only decisive action, with frameworks, timelines and measurable objectives will convince observers that, this time, it is the real thing.”

Goldstuck said that the document has clearly been drafted by a team that is in tune with the thinking of concerned stakeholders like the National Broadband Forum, while also taking into account issues that may be challenging to the major networks.

“In this way it is an even-handed document, perhaps indicating that the Government will avoid treading on too many toes. At the same time, however, it acknowledges the need for greater competition, and for Government intervention where competition does not enhance access and affordability. The success of such policies, though, will be dependent on the political will it requires to implement them effectively,” Goldstuck said.

On the question as to whether the broadband policy will actually result in ‘affordable broadband for all’, Goldstuck said that he does not think General Nyanda wants to be remembered as a lame duck minister of communications, “so I suspect we will see real action from Government to improve broadband in the course of his term in office.”

Steve Song from the South African National Broadband Forum (SANBF) said that it is a good start that the DoC has taken the initiative to draft a broadband policy.  Song however points out that the draft itself fails to draw on existing examples of broadband policy from around the world and expert analysis from the World Bank, OECD, and others on effective national broadband strategies. 

“It also fails to set clear progress targets,” Song said.  The SANBF proposed three concrete milestones for a broadband strategy to achieve within five years: 

  1. To have broadband access in every town and village;
  2. To have the cheapest broadband access on the continent; and
  3. To be number one in terms of broadband penetration on the continent.

Song added that it is disappointing that the DoC are not organising public consultations on the policy document.  “The period for comment on the draft is too short to gather serious, considered input,” said Song.

Interested parties have until 17 October to comment on the draft broadband policy from the DoC.

Affordable broadband for all – what should be done?

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Affordable Broadband for all