Categorized | Communications

Overhaul of broadband policy underway

At last, policy for comment….

A national broadband policy, stated by department of communications (DoC) as being to “enhance government policy objectives in the provision of education, health services, job creation, building sustainable rural communities and reducing crime and corruption”, has been published for public comment in a somewhat troubled communications industry.

An earlier strategy policy under the previous minister, the late Roy Padayachie, was introduced in 2010. This was reviewed and the new strategy, promised some time ago, and this represents the latest position.

New Bill the final product

Local commentators expect eventually a Green Paper and White Paper to be introduced to Parliament by late 2014, before a new Bill is eventually introduced completely overhauling the communications environment.

In earlier moves, the cabinet had established an inter-ministerial committee to finalise the new draft broadband strategy which had been so many years in the making.  More recently has been the introduction of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) Amendment Bill for public consultation.

Complaints and Compliance Commission

This was to provide for the establishment of the complaints and compliance commission (CCC) to replace the complaints and compliance committee, to deal further and more effectively with regulation on electronic transactions and to introduce mechanisms to ensure the accountability of ICASA itself to change the nature of the mandate of the ICASA CEO.

A tariff advisory council was proposed to tackle the operators over their tariffs.

The minister extended the public comment period on this draft Bill after considerable public concern had been expressed on the legal ramifications of electronic transfer proposals; the powers of the CCC in relation to ICASA; the rights of independent broadcasters; and tariff issues.

Policy backs existing strategy

The DoC, in a statement on the new broadband strategy, says that its new policy will complement the work that is already being done through its Strategic Integrated Project, which deals with expanding access to information and communications services with a special focus on broadband, digital terrestrial television and school connectivity.

“The proposed policy deals with the complete value chain of broadband rollout, including attracting related investment in broadband infrastructure, enterprise development, encouraging the manufacturing of end-user equipment locally in South Africa”.

Going public

Provincial road shows are expected to follow the public consultation period, the policy stating as an objective to align itself with National Development Plan, aiming to achieve an “e-literate society and 100% broadband access by 2030”.

Amongst the many aims expressed in the published policy are the objectives to ensure universal access to reliable, affordable and secure broadband services; prioritise rural and under-serviced areas to combat the digital divide, build an information society; develop a more integrated approach in the deployment of high-speed broadband to reduce costs. of broadband services that are blocking accessibility to the wider population.

Policy targets submarine cables

The policy document states that DoC will “encourage and support investment in broadband backbone network infrastructure including submarine cable systems.”

The policy also refers to sufficient allocation and appropriate licensing of radio frequency spectrum to promote universal broadband access and it says future allocation of the radio frequency spectrum for broadband “will also be aimed at advancing competition, black economic empowerment and quality of service”.

The minister has been criticised for delays occurring in the introduction of national digital television and the manufacture of set-top boxes for consumers to receive the new signal.

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