Wait a minute – We have heard this all before

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his state of the nation address (SONA) on Thursday, promising to reduce the high price of mobile data.

To help with this process, Ramaphosa said the Minister of Communications will issue the policy direction to ICASA to commence the spectrum licensing process within the next month.

He added that the process will include measures to promote competition, transformation, and universal access.

He also called on the telecommunications industry to bring down the cost of data so that it is in line with other countries in the world.

We have heard this before

If you experience déjà vu and think you have heard this before, you would be correct.

In fact, Ramaphosa and his predecessor have been beating the “lower data prices” and spectrum drum for the past three years.

Here is a summary of what Ramaphosa and former President Jacob Zuma said about data prices in their state of the nation speeches.

  • June 2019 SONA (Cyril Ramaphosa) – “Young people have continuously raised the issue of the excessive high data costs in South Africa. Within the next month, the Minister of Communications will issue the policy direction to ICASA to commence the spectrum licensing process.”
  • February 2019 SONA (Cyril Ramaphosa) – “The Minister of Communications will shortly be issuing policy direction to ICASA for the licensing of the high demand radio frequency spectrum.”
  • February 2018 SONA (Cyril Ramaphosa) – “We will finalise our engagements with the telecommunications industry and other stakeholders to ensure that the allocation of spectrum reduces barriers to entry, promotes competition and reduces the cost to consumers.”
  • February 2017 SONA (Jacob Zuma) – “We assure the youth that the lowering of the cost of data is uppermost in our policies and plans.”

Some hope

Incompetence, mismanagement, and instability at the Department of Communications have impeded the process to give more spectrum to mobile operators.

Over the last 11 years, South Africa has had 11 communications ministers, many of whom have no knowledge of the industry.

This, coupled with incompetence and mismanagement, has crushed the digital migration and spectrum allocation processes.

Giving mobile operators more spectrum is the easiest way to reduce mobile data prices, which means that the delay is hurting South Africans and the economy.

There is, however, more hope than ever before this time. Ramaphosa has telecommunications experience and there is now a lot of political will to make it happen.

The only question is whether the Department of Communications and ICASA have the needed skills and capacity to do what is needed to hand out spectrum to mobile operators.

Now read: Mobile data prices – Here is what’s preventing price drops

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Wait a minute – We have heard this all before