Dear Mr. President – please check these facts

The Presidency of South Africa recently released its Twenty Years Review, in which it reflects on how the country has progressed in realising the objectives of reconstruction and development since the dawn of democracy in 1994.

President Jacob Zuma said that the “Twenty Year Review is packed with facts and figures to support its analysis and it is honest and frank in its approach”.

“Where the facts indicate that we have made progress, we say so, and where the facts indicate that we have challenges and have made mistakes, we also say so,” said Zuma.

“South Africa is a success story. South Africa is a good story. We have succeeded because of the hard work of all our people who contributed in various ways to rebuilding their country,” he said.

Communications

The presidency’s Twenty Years Review touches on various communications services, including the Internet, mobile services, broadcasting, and fixed line telecommunications.

MyBroadband’s Jan Vermeulen provided a comprehensive analysis of the statements made in the Twenty Years Review here.

As part of the presidency’s Twenty Years Review, it provided a list of points related to the “Reform of the communications sector since 1994”. The source of this is the Department of Communications.

Here are the statements (in grey), along with some commentary regarding the statements.

The Broadcasting Act was enacted in 1998. This removed the SABC from state control and entrenched its role as a public broadcaster.

The SABC has been hit with scandal after scandal, is widely criticized as dysfunctional, and has been criticized for being under too much control from government.

58.3% of the broadcasting sector is owned by Historically Disadvantaged Individuals (HDIs). Given a zero base in 1992, this is a major achievement.

This is encouraging, and shows strong transformation in the broadcasting industry.

The enactment of the Electronic Communications Act in 2005 increased market liberalisation.

Government fought tooth and nail against truly opening the market to competition, opting for “managed liberalization’. It took a successful legal battle by Altech against government to allow all licensees to build their own networks and compete against Telkom.

Entry of a third mobile operator, and second national fixed-line operator.

The process of introducing Neotel as the second national operator was delayed for years, and the envisaged third national operator never materialised.

Establishment of a state-owned broadband company, InfraCo, in 2009.

This was a good initiative, but it was not long before reports of mismanagement, corruption, and poor performance lead to questions about the company’s ability to fulfil its mandate.

Broadband Infraco is rolling out a national fibre optic network to provide broadband. MTN, Neotel and Vodacom are co-building an alternative national infrastructure network. These amount to over 5,000km of national fibre.

These are certainly good initiatives, but due to a lack of proper legislation, the rollout of fibre networks takes much longer than planned. The national long distance network rollout by MTN, Neotel, and Vodacom has been much slower than anticipated. Let’s not forget about FibreCo and Dark Fibre Africa here.

Four additional submarine cable systems provide international commercial services in the last five years. These are: SEACOM completed in 2009; EASSy in 2010; MainOne in 2010; and West African Cable System (WACS) in 2011.

Let’s get the facts right – MainOne has landing stations in Nigeria, Ghana, and Portugal, and not in South Africa. There are plans to extend it to South Africa, but whether that will happen is not certain.

Regarding Seacom and Eassy – the Department of Communications tried to block these cables from landing in South Africa.

The Post Office has installed an estimated 700,000 new mail boxes around the country, and over 7.4 million new addresses since 2004, giving identity to households.

To try to sing the praises of the Post Office is not easy. Here are some of the recent problems at the organisation.

To date the Post Office opened 430,000 new accounts for social grants and pensions and the Postbank has the highest number of Mzansi Accounts – about 2.6 million.

This is good news. Affordable banking is an important service to many South African citizens.

Access of households to broadband is 33.7 percent (source: Research ICT Africa, 2012 ICT access and usage survey).

South Africa’s broadband penetration rate is very poor. In fact, South Africa has been dropping down the list of Internet connected countries ever since the ANC government took office in 1994.

6,700 schools connected to broadband to date.

There were so many failed initiatives in trying to connect schools to the Internet, that it is impossible to list them all. Here are a few.

Coverage of digital terrestrial television (DTT) is 82% with the full target being 84 percent. 16 percent is covered by satellite.

The migration to digital TV has been one of the DoC’s biggest bungles, with numerous missed deadlines and a string of failures. It is questionable whether the country will meet the 2015 deadline for the migration to DTT.

Mobile phone termination rates were cut in 2010, and from 89 cents to 40 cents in 2013, then to 20 cents in 2014. This rate will fall to 10 cents by 2016, as part of the effort to reduce the costs of communication.

Hang on there, Mr President. The mobile termination rate is still 40c, and the rate of 20c per minute did not kick in yet.

Conclusion

Many of the developments in the South African telecommunications market, especially those related to new networks, happened because of a successful fight against government by industry players.

The ANC government may claim many successes, but to claim it is the force behind a competitive communications market, a great state broadcaster, and a quality postal service is a stretch.

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Dear Mr. President – please check these facts