Cabinet approved the National Integrated Information Communication Technology (ICT) Policy White Paper in September, which calls for a radical shake-up of the South African mobile market.
The paper further proposes that all unassigned high-demand spectrum be set aside for assignment to the OAN.
While there has been some support for the government’s “one big network for everyone” plan, the truth is that it is a model which is likely to fail.
In 2006, the government had a similar plan, where Sentech would build a South African wireless broadband infrastructure network. This plan never materialised.
It is also hard to forget Telkom’s monopoly, where the government kept competition out of the market to assist the company to roll out 2.8 million lines to underserved areas.
The plan failed spectacularly, and held back telecommunications infrastructure development and broadband investments for years.
The only difference between the government’s previous failed plans and its latest proposals in the ICT Policy White Paper is that the new plans are dumber and far more dangerous.
To even mention that assigned spectrum may be taken back causes investor uncertainty, which will result in investment in infrastructure being cut. It is a very, very stupid idea.
The idea of holding back all unassigned spectrum for an OAN, where there is no clear funding model and roll-out plan, is equally obtuse.
If the government is convinced that a co-built wholesale network is of value, give it some of the unassigned LTE spectrum and see if enough players join the project to make it a reality.
The rest of the spectrum can then be auctioned, like ICASA is planning, which will immediately benefit local operators and consumers.
Hell, the government can even use the money from the spectrum auction to help fund the new network.
So how does this impact you? It is simple: the continued shortage of spectrum means you pay more for mobile data and you receive slower speeds than what is possible.
The half-baked and idealistic plans in the ICT Policy White Paper will further delay the assigning of new spectrum to the mobile operators.
The shortage of spectrum means that the roll-out of LTE and LTE-Advanced is held back and that more money must be spent to provide good coverage and service levels.
These costs are passed on to you and it is therefore no surprise that we pay more for mobile data than many of our international counterparts.
If the government has the best interest of its citizens at heart, it will retract its ICT Policy White Paper and consult with the industry to find a mutually-beneficial way forward.