SONA 2020 – Ramaphosa makes promises we have heard all before

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his fourth state of the nation address on Thursday, stating that the licensing of high demand spectrum will be concluded by the end of 2020.

“An important condition for the success of our digital economy is the availability of high demand spectrum to expand broadband access and reliability,” Ramaphosa said.

“The regulator, ICASA, has undertaken to conclude the licensing of high demand spectrum for industry via auction before the end of 2020.”

He also punted lower data prices, saying the competition authorities are working with mobile operators to secure deep cuts to data prices across prepaid monthly bundles.

He said additional discounts targeted at low-income households, the free daily allocation of data, and free access to educational and public interest websites will also be implemented.

This sounds great and will make many people happy, but there is just one problem – we have heard this all before.

Ramaphosa and his predecessors have been beating the “lower data prices” and spectrum drum for many years.

Here is a look back at what former Presidents Thabo Mbeko, Jacob Zuma, and President Ramaphosa said about data prices over the past fifteen years.

Comments on lower data and communications costs

  • February 2005 SONA (Thabo Mbeki) – We believe that the unacceptable situation in which some of our fixed line rates are 10 times those of developed (OECD) countries will soon become a thing of the past.
  • February 2006 SONA (Thabo Mbeki) – Work is proceeding apace to address such challenges as the cost of telecommunications.
  • February 2007 SONA (Thabo Mbeki) – We will develop a high-speed national and international broadband capacity.
  • February 2008 SONA (Thabo Mbeki) – Money has been allocated for Sentech to become a wireless internet wholesaler as well as finance its digitisation.
  • June 2009 SONA (Jacob Zuma) – We will ensure that the cost of telecommunications is reduced through the projects underway to expand broadband capacity.
  • February 2010 (Jacob Zuma) – The South African public can look forward to an even further reduction of broadband, cell phone, landline, and public phone rates.
  • February 2013 (Jacob Zuma) – We will expand the broadband network. The plan is to achieve 100% broadband internet penetration by 2020.
  • February 2017 (Jacob Zuma) – We assure the youth that the lowering of the cost of data is uppermost in our policies and plans.
  • February 2018 SONA (Cyril Ramaphosa) – We will ensure that the allocation of spectrum reduces barriers to entry, promotes competition, and reduces the cost to consumers.
  • June 2019 SONA (Cyril Ramaphosa) – Young people have continuously raised the issue of the excessively high data costs in South Africa.
  • February 2020 SONA (Cyril Ramaphosa) – Ramaphosa promises “deep cuts to data prices across pre-paid monthly bundles, additional discounts targeted at low-income households, the free daily allocation of data, and free access to educational and other public interest websites”.

Comments on spectrum

  • February 2018 SONA (Cyril Ramaphosa) – We will finalise our engagements with the telecommunications industry and other stakeholders for the allocation of spectrum.
  • February 2019 SONA (Cyril Ramaphosa) – The Minister of Communications will shortly be issuing policy direction to ICASA for the licensing of the high demand radio frequency spectrum.
  • June 2019 SONA (Cyril Ramaphosa) –Within the next month, the Minister of Communications will issue the policy direction to ICASA to commence the spectrum licensing process.
  • February 2020 SONA (Cyril Ramaphosa) – The regulator, ICASA, has undertaken to conclude the licensing of high demand spectrum for industry via auction before the end of 2020.

Broken promises

Many of the promises made in the state of the nation addresses did not materialise and gave people false hope.

The main reason for this failure is that the government tried to use political tools like regulation and state-protected monopolies to provide better broadband services.

These political interventions failed. What worked every time is competition, which is what is behind better broadband access, lower prices, and better service levels.

The government would do well to focus on licensing spectrum and increasing competition to ensure better services and lower prices to consumers.

It worked across the world, and it will work in South Africa.

This is an opinion piece.

Now read: Big data price cuts and a free daily data allocation negotiated – Ramaphosa

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SONA 2020 – Ramaphosa makes promises we have heard all before