Telkom Group CEO Sipho Maseko has said that being the Minister of Telecommunications is not an easy job.
Responding to a question at SATNAC 2018 on what he would do if he was the minister, Maseko said the number one principle is that regulation must enable investment.
“Between the three large telcos we invest R25 billion to R30 billion a year,” Maseko said.
He said the question to answer is: What will it take for network operators to continue their investment in infrastructure in South Africa?
As hypothetical minister, Maseko said he would balance the competition in the market. If competition is uneven, that means it is not possible to provide services across the population in a sustainable way.
“If others lose because their products and services are lousy, that’s okay, but they mustn’t lose because the system is stacked against them,” Maseko said.
The government must therefore ask what the areas are where there is no competition, and how does it open those markets?
Another important question is how policy and regulation may be used for a positive outcome, without resulting in unintended consequences.
Maseko illustrated his point about regulation encouraging future investment and unintended consequences with the story of Telkom’s obligation to rollout phone lines to underserviced areas in the early 1990s.
Telkom had to build one million lines, and the intention was very good, Maseko said.
“The tragedy of it, though, was that it was at the beginning of mobile phones,” he added.
While Telkom was obligated to roll out copper phone lines to previously-underserviced areas, Vodacom and MTN were required to build their networks to cover 90% of South Africa’s population.
The project to roll out one million landlines to underserviced areas failed. “We wrote off at least a billion or two. Everybody had a cellphone.”
Maseko said that when you legislate or regulate, you must make sure not to solve the problem of 10 years ago, but anticipate what the problem will be in 20 or 30 years.
“Use the instrument of legislation to fix a future problem rather than a historical one,” said Maseko.