Disappointing budget speech from the DTPS

In his recent budget speech to parliament, the Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Siyabonga Cwele, said that Sentech will conclude its business plan and funding model for a South African-owned communication satellite by building on the country’s national capabilities and partnerships.

The aim is to reduce South Africa’s current leasing costs and build the country’s technical skills.

In the speech there was no mention of SANSA, which is working on a low orbit earth observation satellite, EOS-1, which has been in the pipeline for a long time, and delayed due to budget constraints.

While SANSA is part of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), and Sentech is funded through the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS), one can’t help wondering if the two departments are talking to each other.

Frequency spectrum debacle continues

One would have expected that Minister Cwele would have used his budget speech to make a definite statement about the allocation of much needed spectrum for broadband, but instead he created more discourse.

He said that the current telecoms companies licenced with high demand spectrum appealed not to return it until the end of the licence period in 2027/28.

In return they committed to buying at least 30% of wireless open access network (WOAN) capacity.

In addition, they also asked the DTPS to conduct a study on the actual spectrum need of a sustainable WOAN based on the fact that in the last two years, the industry had invested significantly in the 4G/LTE networks.

Industry further appealed that if the study indicated that there would be spectrum left, it be licensed to reduce current capacity and congestion challenges.

In return they committed to buying up to 50% of WOAN capacity, depending on the additional spectrum licenced to them. The CSIR was commissioned to conduct this study and it has concluded it.

The outcome of the study is in the Cabinet process for consideration and approval and will be published after the conclusion of the Cabinet process, according to Minister Cwele.

The statement is misleading, as the Minister is now referring back to agreements he made with industry in October last year which were ignored when the draft ECA Amendment bill was gazetted in December 2017. It is also doubtful if the industry appealed to the minister rather than stating their case.

Industry fiercely objected to the draft bill, so much so that the DTPS arranged a workshop in March this year to discuss the opposition to the WOAN and many other aspects of the ECA Amendment Act – yet now the Minister is going ahead as if nothing has happened in the past six months.

At the workshop most industry players said the WOAN was a no-go. It has not succeeded anywhere else in the world; why should South Africa take such a gamble? Industry also wanted to know why the results of the CSIR study have not be published and why it has to first be approved by cabinet.

The CSIR is a professional body, so their findings should not need to be scrutinised by politicians.

Lack of DTT is costing Sentech millions

Minister Cwele said that the delay in digital terrestrial television (DTT) migration is costing Sentech about R150-million per annum in dual illumination. “We need to finalise the digital migration process next year in order to release spectrum to the telecommunication network providers as directed by the ITU”. Next year? South Africa is already many years behind the ITU schedule. Why not now?

DTPS’s R923-million budget focuses on key interventions aimed to increase the usage of information and communication technologies (ICT) to facilitate socio-economic justice and inclusion, attract investment, improve competitiveness, transform the sector and prepare South Africans for the fourth industrial revolution.

The minister said, “We shall continue to work with all relevant stakeholders to achieve these goals. These consultations have resulted in growing certainty in the sector as evidenced by the continued investment by both government and the private sector. This is in line with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call for all of us to lend a hand in attracting investments in South Africa.”

Only three years late, the Minister announced that in this financial year the DTPS are prioritising the operationalisation of the National Rapid Deployment Coordinating Centre, comprising representatives from all spheres of government and industry. The centre will include the setting up of a memorandum of understanding with South African Local Government Association (SALGA).

The centre will, amongst others, establish a common automated wayleave application system, create a geographic mapping information database of all fibre and other electronic communication network facility deployments. It will assist network providers to reduce costs and time for deploying their telecommunication infrastructure.

The 2018 budget speech was disappointing as spectrum issues remain unsolved. The DTPS is making changes to the draft ECA Amendment Bill which is expected to be re-published later in the year. From what we heard in the speech, it does not sound promising.

Source: Engineer IT

Now read: Communications Minister implicated in serious irregularities

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Disappointing budget speech from the DTPS