The Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services adopted the agenda and draft minutes of the 24 June 2014 without amendments. The briefing by the Minister, scheduled for 29 August, was highlighted as this would provide information on the legislative programme and explain the investigation into the Post Office. The draft second term programme was adopted without amendments.
It was noted that the Committee had received a letter from the Office Responsible for Supporting Institutions of Democracy in Parliament, which was a coordinating a meeting of all portfolio committees and all the institutions. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) had also been invited.
The Committee was briefed with an orientation paper on Telecommunications and Postal Services, the intention of which was to show how things fitted together, the complexities of the sector, and to provide a basis for discussion. The presentation dealt with the following areas: how the state-owned telecoms monopolies performed; some of the key drivers of the information communication technology (ICT) sector; the impact of globalisation on ICTs; the components of the ICT sector; policy and regulatory issues; international and national polity contexts; the regulator and its role in broadening participation; matters of convergence; electronic communications law and the state of legislation in South Africa; and the digital migration value chain.
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson outlined the programme for the meeting, which included the adoption of the minutes of the first meeting held on 24 June 2014, the adoption of the second term programme and the orientation briefing by the researcher. This briefing would assist Members to become orientated with the work of the Committee, especially with regard to the proclamation by the President which outlined the entities of the Committee. These entities were SENTECH, USAASA (Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa), SITA (State Information Technology Agency), the ZA domain name authority and Post Office Services. The majority of the staff who had been located in the Department of Communications, would now be located in this Committee.
The Minutes of 24 June 2014 were adopted without amendments.
Draft Second Term Programme
The Chairperson said that this was a draft programme which would become a final document after adoption. The programme would start on 22 August, with one week of recess and one week of constituency work. A letter had been received from the House Chairperson of Committees indicating that the Office Responsible for Supporting Institutions of Democracy in Parliament was coordinating a meeting with all portfolio committees and all the institutions. The Telecommunications and Postal Services Committee had been allocated a joint meeting with the Committee on Communications on 22 August, which would be led by the House Chairperson. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) had been invited, as the institution.
The briefing by the Minister on 29 August was an important meeting, as it would illustrate the legislative programme of the Committee. The other important aspect of this meeting was that the Minister would take the Committee through the investigation into the Post Office.
Ms M Shinn (DA) said that she was pleased that the Minister would be briefing the Committee on the programme.
The programme was adopted without amendments.
Orientation briefing on Telecommunications and Postal Services
Mr Sandile Nene, Committee Researcher, introduced his presentation with a definition of telecommunications, and dealt with the following areas:
- How the state-owned telecoms monopolies performed;
- Some of the key drivers of the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector;
- The impact of globalisation on ICT entities;
- Components of the ICT sector;
- Policy and regulatory matters;
- International and national polity contexts;
- The regulator, and its role in broadening participation;
- Matters of convergence;
- Electronic communications law and the state of legislation in South Africa; and
- The digital migration value chain.
Globalisation was listed as one of the key drivers of ICT sector reform. The main reasons advanced for specialised regulation of telecommunications were to maintain control over the use of a valuable national resource, to control anti-competitive behaviour by dominant players in the market, and to ensure the development and implementation of effective universal service policies.
The 2014 Proclamation was the Department’s mandate to create a favourable ICT environment, ensuring that South Africa had the capacity to advance its socio-economic development goals and support development in Africa. (See document).
The Chairperson said that the intention of the presentation was basically to show how things fitted together, the complexities of the sector, and provide a basis for discussion.
Ms Shinn asked for clarity about the .za domain name, and how domain names were developed.
Mr Nene said that the .za domain reported to a name authority called “Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers” (ICANN), which was an international body for managing domain spaces around the world. In terms of Board membership, one person would have to be seconded to it.
Mr C Mackenzie (DA) referred to the National Telecommunications Union and the Universal Postal Union (UPU), and given the neo-liberal makeup of institutions such as the World Bank, for example, he asked who set the agenda for international regulatory bodies and what the membership was. Who made the decisions, what were the decision-making processes, who set the standards, and what was South Africa’s influence as a nation and as part of the South African Development Community (SADEC) community?
Mr Nene said he was going to answer in terms of what he had read, as he was unable to provide his own opinion. South Africa had chosen 2015 to implement digital migration, because there was leniency in all African countries, and the decision was not urgent at that time regarding the digital dividend for African countries.
Ms Shinn thanked the researcher for the good presentation. She asked for clarity about Spectrum Communications, indicating what the differences were, and who was responsible for what.
Mr Nene replied that part of the problem was that the Minister was the one to issue directives on Spectrum’s allocation and assignments. In most countries, regulators had this task. Most regulators were independent. In this country, the Department dealt with these issues.
Ms D Tsotetsi (ANC) said that charges for services were very expensive in this country and job seekers had difficulty accessing services. Some areas were not covered in terms of connectivity. The Committee should include this aspect in their oversight programme.
Mr Nene was asked to prepare a paper to respond to this issue.
The Chairperson said the presentation was mainly to spark questions and debate so that the Committee became aware of policies and possible gaps.
Chairperson expressed appreciation for the presentation and said that there was a great deal of work that had to be done in the Committee, especially to try to make the country globally competitive. The environment in which the Committee had to do its work had initially been trying, but had become smoother over time.
The Committee was alerted to the budget review process, and Members were asked to familiarise themselves with it.
The meeting was adjourned.
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