Minister of Communications Dina Pule gazetted her draft National Broadband Policy on Wednesday (3 April 2013) for public comment, giving those interested 30 working days within which to provide feedback.
The phrase “open access networks” appears a number of times in the document in the context of how undersea cables are to be managed in SA; national backhaul networks; and local access (or last mile) networks.
In particular, the Department of Communications (DoC) decrees in its proposed policy that Telkom will provide the bulk of South Africa’s core backbone infrastructure. “Telkom will be supported by other state-owned companies and the private sector,” the DoC states.
No mention of LLU
The policy goes on to acknowledge that there is a need to promote the expansion of South Africa’s last mile access networks, but makes no mention of local loop unbundling (LLU).
Instead the DoC proposes fibre-to-the-premises and fibre-to-the-home roll-outs in the long term, supported by mobile broadband technologies in the short term.
In areas where it is not economically viable to deploy these technologies, the DoC’s draft policy states that the infrastructure sharing will take place through a wholesale open access network, with competition confined to the provision of services.
As with the broadband policy published in July 2010 under former Minister of Communications Siphiwe Nyanda, nothing concrete is said.
The draft policy merely plays harbinger to strategies, plans, and a ‘mapping exercise’ that must first be done.
Under the subheading “Implementation of the policy”, the draft spells out the following steps:
- A broadband mapping exercise will provide guidance in identifying broadband infrastructure gaps in all nine provinces.
- A National Broadband Strategy will be developed in collaboration with all key stakeholders. The strategy will include the implementation of programmes aimed at advancing penetration such as schools connectivity, health facilities connectivity, rural connectivity, and connectivity of government institutions at national, provincial and local level; and the provision of public access points.
- A Broadband Implementation Plan which details how various initiatives will be supported and implemented will also be developed.
- An impact assessment on the effectiveness of the policy should be conducted on annual basis.
It is disappointing that after months of waiting, nothing concrete has come from the DoC to deal with time-sensitive issues such as LLU and assigning the highly sought-after radio frequency spectrum for high-speed mobile broadband technologies such as LTE.
Although it’s not unexpected that a policy document would offer little in the way of action, what was really needed was for existing policies, strategies, and plans to be implemented along with new policy being discussed.