The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services unveiled the National Integrated Information and Communication Technologies Policy White Paper on Sunday.
The paper calls for radical changes in the telecommunications market, including the creation of a Wireless Open Access Network (OAN).
This network will be a public-private owned and managed consortium, aimed at competition on services rather than networks.
All currently unassigned high-demand spectrum will be set aside for the OAN.
The move will remove infrastructure duplication, lower costs, and encourage service-based competition, said the department.
However, all similar initiatives have failed in the past and left the country licking its wounds for years to follow.
A history of trying to control telecommunications
To understand the skepticism towards the OAN, we must look at these past failures.
The ANC has always shown a deep distrust of free-market capitalism in the telecoms market, thinking it will fail the population.
Below are several examples of how the ANC government meddled in telecoms and supported state-owned networks.
- 1993: The ANC was opposed to privatising public telecommunications, and tried to stop the licensing of Vodacom and MTN. This would have been a disastrous mistake.
- 1997: Telkom was given five years of exclusivity in the fixed-line market in exchange for rolling out 2.8 million lines – of which 1.7 million were for historically under-serviced areas. This was a big failure and did not serve to connect the unconnected.
- 2006: The communications ministry announced that Sentech will form the core of South Africa’s wireless broadband infrastructure network. This plan never materialised.
- 2007: State-owned Broadband Infraco was founded to improve market efficiency in the connectivity market. The company was loss making since it started, and the state is now trying to offload it.
The ANC Government has a long track record of playing in the telecoms market and its projects ending in failure – hurting South Africa’s economy and its citizens.
The only reason people have access to communication services
The only reason most people have access to telecommunications services in South Africa is due to an aggressive network roll-out by Vodacom and MTN.
High mobile call prices made it possible for the mobile operators to expand their coverage across the country and still make money.
This competition on a network level brought South Africa 99% 2G coverage, 99% 3G coverage, and 58% LTE coverage.
The success of the free market which brought ubiquitous mobile networks and broadband to South Africa is dismissed with near contempt in the new policy paper, and replaced with an unproven alternative.
“Wireless OAN’s have been established in Mexico and Kenya, with mixed results,” the policy paper stated.
The truth is that a competitive telecommunications market is proven to be the best way to provide services to people.
The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services’ policy document does not believe this, and goes back to the ANC’s 1993 belief that a single network will be the best way to serve the people.
The worst part is that valuable LTE spectrum, which could have been used by Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, and Telkom to make broadband faster and cheaper, will once again be wasted because of bureaucracy and poor choices by the ANC.
This is an opinion piece.