The Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) held a seminar focusing on the sector’s developments -- telecoms, postal services, e-Government and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) ecosystem -- in the last 20 years.
The implementation of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) focused on the coordination role of the departments and how the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) engaged with both public and private sectors on the delivery of broadband. The delegates and service providers emphasised that the issue of inadequate funding needed to be addressed as there were more schools, hospitals and communities that still needed to be connected and provided with technological equipment, such as tablets, laptops, desktop computers and printers.
The DTPS was currently developing an implementation plan for SA Connect and the objective was to provide ubiquitous and affordable broadband for all the citizens by focusing on both the supply side and demand side interventions. The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) document of 1994 highlighted that in order for the country to move forward, there was a need to consider the geographic as well as the local access gap, and this could be achieved through focusing on the gap in rural underserved areas.
There was no doubt that the current government had played a pivotal role in ensuring that Historically Disadvantaged Individuals (HDIs) were able to access modern electronic communication. However, there were still remaining challenges that needed to be addressed, including accessibility, affordability and the reliability of modern electronic communication to enhance economic development. The government was currently putting more resources into ensuring that there was universal access and service obligations, broadband connectivity to communities, schools, public institutions and underserved areas.
The delegates supported a proposal for more coordination and harmonisation between the service providers, as fragmentation was still a major problem. It was stressed that the parliamentary committee could play a key coordinative role. Some delegates felt that there was no need for another ICT strategy, ICT policy review panel or ICT policy discussion paper, as the country had not worked hard enough to implement all the policies and strategies. There was a need for a digital economy fibre structure, as this was something bigger and paid more attention to policy and strategy convergence, rather than the individual domain.
The cost to communicate was still major problem, as mostly affected were those who were poor. The initiative in Gauteng, where students are provided with tablets and ipads, was hailed as innovative, but there were fears that it was likely to fail if the country did not deal firmly with the issue of the cost to communicate, as most of the students would not be able to utilise the devices at home.
The Chairperson highlighted that the majority of people still relied on making phone calls for emergency services and the country still did not have a toll-free line for emergency services, despite this being a constitutional right. Members agreed that the country should invest in Research and Development (R& D) for the sustainability of the ICT sector and the ability of the country to remain competitive globally. Some Members indicated that the sector was still battling with a lack of critical skills, as this was important for competitiveness and encouraging investment. The reason for the success of India in the ICT sector was mainly because of investment in education. South Africa should look beyond policy and regulation and explore other factors that were contributing to continuous disinvestment in the sector, compared to other middle-income countries.
Opening remarks by Chairperson
The Chairperson welcomed everyone to the Committee meeting and indicated that the seminar should be as interactive as possible so as to ensure that everyone contributed in the debate about the progress that had been made in the last 20 years in terms of accessibility and affordability of broadband.
There were apologies from Dr Siyabonga Cwele, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services and Ms Rosey Sekese, Director General (DG) of the DTPS.
Prof Andrew Barendse, of Wits University, said that the current government had managed to reduce inequalities in access to modern electronic communication, considering that in 1994, there was only one telephone line for every 100 black people and 60 telephone lines for every 100 white people. The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) document of 1994 highlighted that in order for the country to move forward, there was a need to consider the geographic as well as local access gap and this could be done through focusing on the gap in rural underserved areas.
The key challenges that faced the current government were to prioritise on accessibility, affordability and reliability of modern electronic communication to enhance economic development. The government also emphasised the need to include universal access and service obligations, broadband connectivity to communities, schools, public institutions and underserved areas. There is a need to expand the reach of services, especially network service like infrastructure.
Prof Barense said the presentations should delve into the need to grow the demand for universal access to high-speed broadband internet focusing specifically on the National Development Plan (NDP) perspective. There was a need to touch on the progress that had been made and the challenges still experienced in the provision of broadband services in the last 20 years.
The Chairperson highlighted that the seminar needed to be an open dialogue where everyone was allowed to voice their opinions, as it was important to hear about results that had been achieved during the previous period in the ICT sector. Governance was essentially about enhancing dialogue and allowing people to play an additional role with the services they were offered. It was still evident that those who were still disadvantaged were those located in rural areas as they often foundnd it difficult to utilise the modern forms of communication. Infrastructure was readily available in the urban areas, rather than in rural areas, and this meant there was more capital required in rural areas to provide service for communication. The priority of the current government had always been to provide accessible, equitable and universal services to disadvantaged communities so as to achieve economic transformation. It was, however, concerning that although South Africa was far developed economically compared to the rest of the continent, it was still lagging behind in the ICT sector. There were numerous challenges that were highlighted during the World Economic Forum that posed a threat to the ICT sector and these included cyber security, unemployment, and fiscal crisis and infrastructure breakdown.
The ICT sector was still untransformed, as historically disadvantaged individuals (HDIs) were still finding it difficult to enter the sector. The country needed to deal with the issue of escalating data costs, as this had created barriers to the poor and this again went back to the issue of accessibility and affordability. Broadband connectivity was important in schools using ICTs and the role it could play in the socio-economic development of societies. The purpose of delivering broadband connectivity in schools was basically to ensure that learners utilise ICTs to enhance learning and teaching and encourage connectivity and competencies on digital content.
There was still concern over the fact that there was a lack of coordination between all the service providers and this fragmentation needed to be addressed with urgency. She also expressed disappointment that the service providers seemed to be biased against rural areas, as they were still not connected to the broadband. In conclusion, the optimal utilisation of the ICTs had the potential to lead to higher economic growth and social development. There was no doubt that there had been improvements in terms of access to ICT services, but there was also still a lot to be done to reach out to those in remote areas.
Briefing by Converge Partners
Mr Envir Fraser, Chief Strategy Officer, Converge Partners, indicated that it was important to look at the results that had been achieved since 1999 in terms of accessibility and affordability of electronic communication. The policy that guided technology pre-1994 was basically about offering segregated services – state-controlled and showing monopolistic behaviour, driven by the State. The key legislative instruments were the Radio Act of 1952, the Post Office Act of 1958 and the Broadcasting Act of 1976.
The technology began to be influenced by the market and this was preceded by the US, UK and Japan in late 1980s undergoing fundamental changes to the structure of their markets, which had global ripple effects. This led to a rise of independent regulatory regimes and licensing, subject to universal service obligations.
The policy post-1994 focused primarily on transformation of the sector to serve the needs of all South Africans and monopolies were seen as most efficient mechanisms to roll out large scale infrastructure-utility models. Liberalisation was also managed so as to reduce inherent inequality in the sector. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was promulgated to make new provision for the regulation of telecommunication activities other than broadcasting and for control of the radio frequency spectrum. The Independent South African Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and a Universal Service Agency were established. The introduction of the Broadcasting Act of 1999 was to establish a new broadcasting policy for the country, to clarify the powers of the Minister in regard to policy formulation and the authority’s power with respect to the regulation and licensing of the broadcasting system.
Postal services were seen as the main source of communication, especially for those located in remote areas and the Postal Service Act of 1998 advocated new provisions for the regulation of postal services, for the operational functions of the postal company. The Act also pushed for universal service obligations, structural matters relating to postal services as well as the operation of the Postbank and National Savings Certificates. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) formed as an independent regulator of the ICT sector. The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act of 2002 was mandated to provide for legal certainty of electronic commerce, support the development of the internet and its effective governance and more importantly, to address issues of cyber crime and security.
Mr Fraser emphasised that the realities of policy making showed that there was infrastructure-based competition due to the significant backlogs, especially in marginalised communities. State intervention was required to address the market’s failure in meeting the universal access and service needs of the country. There were attempts at the introduction of effective competition within the historical context of incumbency. In conclusion, there was a need to ensure that there was continued investment in the sector, and transformation and universal access by all citizens should remain a priority. The introduction of disruptive technologies driven by the internet today was evident in the Over-The-Top (OTT) services players. There was no context in which to determine the approach in which regulatory instruments should be applied, other than those used in the traditional broadcasting and telecommunication environment.
Briefing by LINK Centre
Dr Luci Abrahams, Director for the LINK Centre, defined a Public Private Partnership (PPP) as a commercial transaction between an institution and a private party in terms of which the private party performs an institutional function on behalf of the institution and acquires the use of state property for its own commercial purposes. The PPPs generally apply to large infrastructure investments such as toll roads or hospitals, and are also sometimes referred to as private finance initiatives. Private parties often take on substantial risks to build infrastructure. PPPs could be Build Own Operate (BOO) or Build Operate Transfer (BOT) and the modalities of PPPs should be very carefully considered, in particular the suitability of a particular project for such a partnership contract.
Governments were keen on PPPs in circumstances where they did not have the finances to build infrastructure, and where private firms were willing to put up the capital and seek a concession from the government at a relatively high cost of capital over the long term. PPPs were always of a long duration -- usually 15 or 20 years or more -- and present risk to investors, but also present risks to government, in particular the risk of financial expenditure rendered valueless by non-completion of the project, as this was a multi-billion rand risk. The notable examples of PPPs include the e-toll system in Gauteng and the broadband infrastructure project of the City of Johannesburg, though the City has parted ways with Ericsson.
Mr Gaitsiwe Lenepa, Board Member, Ikamva National e-Skills Institute (INESI), raised concern that there was a lack of clear direction in terms of policies and regulations in the ICT sector and this was the main cause of duplication of infrastructure. South Africa was among the few countries that did not have an ICT strategy.
Dr Miriam Altman, Head of Strategy, Telkom, opined that there was an ICT strategy and SA Connect, as a broadband policy, was very comprehensive, outlining the challenges and the opportunities to improve broadband in South Africa. The overall vision of the policy was particularly clear -- that every South African should have access to a broadband connection at a cost of 2.5% or less of the average monthly income.
The Chairperson added that indeed there was lack of clear direction in terms of policies and regulations and this was evident in the duplication of services. There was an ICT policy review currently under way and it would then be taken to Parliament, but the broader vision should be about linking all the ICT policies to the ability to communicate effectively. The NDP as an overarching policy clearly illustrated the importance of ICT in reducing the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.
Dr Abrahams said there was no need for another ICT strategy, ICT policy review panel and ICT policy discussion paper as the country had not worked hard enough to implement all these policies and strategies. There was a need for a digital economy fibre structure as this was something bigger and paid more attention to policy and strategy convergence, which was not about individual domain. She also believed that putting technology in our education system without dealing with other challenges would be a huge waste of resources. The role of the parliamentary committee was important so as to be able to measure progress made annually.
Mr Pakamile Pongwana, CEO, Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), said there was an ICT strategy that clearly articulated the desired direction to be taken by South Africa in terms of broadband connectivity. However, he remarked that although the ICT sector had wonderful policies and strategies, there seemed to be a lack of implementation. It was concerning that neither the DTPS nor the Department of Communication (DOC) had full authority to interpret issues and the institutions that were supposed to be developing policies were not talking to each other. It was commendable that students in Gauteng were now being given tablets and ipads as part of the “paperless classroom”, but most of students would find it difficult to utilise this technology at home because of the lack of infrastructure.
Ms Loren Braithwaite-Kabosha, CEO, South African Communications Forum (SACF), stressed out that it was important to promote ICT as a means of socio-economic development and to coordinate the development of ICT human capital, as this would promote sustainability. There seemed to be lack of coordination and coherence between policies and strategies and this was likely to impact on implementation. In order for the sector to be able to translate into socio-economic development, there should be enough investment.
Mr Nkosi Dlamini, BEE Strategist, Cape Chamber, stated that there seemed to have been a lack of transformation in the sector since 1994, and most HDIs were still lagging behind as they were merely consumers of these technological innovations, without any ownership. The current government was not doing enough to ensure that there were policies in place that would foster transformation in the sector. He recommended that there should be a partnership between Portfolio Committees so as to play a collaborative role. The government must create an interphase committee, so as to pull all the other committees together so as to ensure that all the segments of the society were represented, as the seminar neglected to invite ordinary people who were the main consumers of these modern electronic communications.
Ms L Maseko (ANC) said the creation of more committees and ministries was not likely to resolve the problem of implementation, as each and every Portfolio Committee performed oversight visits to ensure accountability and encouraged public participation from rural to urban areas. The cost to communicate was still a major problem and the private sector needed to compensate for where government was lacking, especially in the areas of accessibility, affordability and the provision of modern electronic communication. Cyber crime was an issue that was likely to be a threat to the security of the internet and needed to be addressed promptly.
Mr Freeman Nomvalo, CEO, State Information Technology Agency (SITA), wondered if the sector was still looking to have a perfect strategy and policy framework, as this was likely to delay the implementation process. Policy review was important, but it was imperative to understand factors driving the ICT sector and how to exploit that opportunity. He felt that the country was obsessed with devising a complex policy framework instead of realizing that small steps would increment over time.
Mr Joshua Moela, Managing Executive: Government Relations at Cell C, concurred that the cost to communicate was still a major problem, as mostly affected were those who were poor. The initiative of providing students with tablets and ipads was innovative, but was likely to fail if the country did not deal firmly with the issue of the cost to communicate. The sector was contributing so much to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but at the same time it was shedding jobs and this trend was likely to continue in the future. The splitting of ministries was not a progressive decision, as it seemed to have caused further confusion and uncertainty and there was a need for some resolution to be implemented.
Mr Dimitri Martinis, CEO, MCM Digital Media, mentioned that the process of going through very laborious policy making was very 20th century, and what was important now was testing policies through implementation. The Parliamentary Committee could play a key coordinative role as they had governmental departments and State-Owned Entities (SOEs) presenting in the committees. The very important role of the committees was regulatory power, and the ability to hold the network providers accountable.
Ms Phumla Radebe, Chairperson of the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA), reiterated that although the GDP of South Africa was far greater than the rest of the continent, the country was still lagging behind in access to ICT services and broadband connectivity. She urged the delegates to think about the ways in which the sector could increase broadband connectivity, reduce communication costs and promote universal access.
Mr Pongwane said the country’s ICT sector failed to identify critical issues to focus on and seemed to waste a good deal of time on policy review, which was time consuming. The three critical issues on which the sector should focus included digital migration, broadband connectivity and local content. Most of the service providers made a huge amount of money on the expiry of data and accumulation of profit instead of prioritising universal access to the internet, information and broadband connectivity. The success of the sector would be determined by focusing on those three critical issues and then redirecting all the resources to them.
Ms Rossana Gell, Senior Manager: Market and Competition Regulation Regulatory Affairs, MTN, pointed out that South Africa needed to observe the best international practices in terms of development in ICT. She supported the appeal for more coordination and harmonization between the service providers, as fragmentation was still a main problem. The parliamentary committee could play a key coordinative role.
Mr Themba Kinana, Group Executive, Vodacom, said he was excited about the education project in Gauteng, which needed to be supported and spread to other provinces, as economic growth in Asia was primarily driven by the relationship between ICT and education. It was the responsibility of both the private and public sector to support education projects throughout the country, especially in rural areas and the interphase between the education and Portfolio Committees was going to be critical in this area. The infrastructure of municipalities should be taken into consideration as there was a shortage of ICT skills at this level.
The Chairperson said the key problem was not about the splitting of the ministries, but rather legislators ensuring that they held accountable whoever was given an opportunity to implement the policies. She felt that the separation of the Department was a good idea, as previously the issues related to ICT were not given adequate time and the majority of the time was spent on broadcasting. There was less conversation about the importance of R&D in ICT, and more about the trends and direction to be taken by the sector in the next ten years. The sector was supposed to play a crucial role in the fight against unemployment, poverty and inequality and it was disappointing to hear about recent reports about possible job cuts at MTN. The importance of the cost to communicate was quite clear in rural areas, where calls were often made for emergency services and the country still did not have a toll free line for emergency services, although this was a constitutional right
Dr Abrahams indicated that the country should be looking at mobile TV instead of focusing on digital migration. Smartphones and tablets were generally cheaper than digital TV and this could solve the issue of accessibility. The laborious policies could be frustrating to the private sector as they already had a direction and one policy was usually enough and regulation was often pivotal. The country could not move with the current state of spectrum regulation, as new technology would drive new spectrum regulation.
Briefing by ICASA
Mr Pakamile Pongwana, CEO, Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), stated that access to communications had gone from access to 3.6 million fixed lines in 1994 to approximately 99% of the population having mobile access in 2014. StatsSA‘s General Household Survey found that there was a high access to telecommunications services, with only about 5% of households that did not have either a mobile or fixed telephone in 2013. According to this survey, 81,9% of households had access to at least one cellular phone, while 12,9% of households had access to both a landline and a cellular phone. IT contributed approximately 6% to national GDP.
National GDP measured in constant local currency units provided the basis for estimates of overall economic growth. South Africa’s GDP ranking was from the World Bank. South Africa did not improve its position in the Global Information Technology Report for 2014, remaining the 70th most prepared out of 144 countries in the Networked Readiness Index. This was far below South Africa’s contribution to the world economy, where South Africa’s economy was the 33rd largest in the world according to the World Bank. However, as an indication of South Africa’s global competitiveness, the country is ranked 56th out of 144 countries (3rd amongst the BRICS countries). Compiled on annual basis by the World Economic Forum, South Africa was ranked 28th in 2012.
The issue of convergence would be resolved by whoever wins the battle in providing content. This battle has a number of fronts. It includes the capacity of networks; the dying business model of traditional broadcasting; over-the-top service providers using the internet and crucially, home movies from applications such as WhatsApp and home channels on YouTube. Regarding policy, the convergence of networks is actually a benefit to local content as it will be easier and cheaper for local producers to firstly record material (now it can be done with an iPad) as well as distribute material through the various online content stores. Competition will move towards two services: mobile content (on tablets and handsets) and fixed content (televisions at home). The challenge is that networks are able to provide the same content to both customer groups, and the two customer groups are not distinctly different. The most important competition issue is to create a separation between network providers and service providers (functional separation) where network owners are granted sufficient spectrum/rights of way/network deployment rights to construct networks that can serve a multitude of service providers giving consumers innovative bundles of services. The major public policy issue therefore is internet governance and particularly how to best protect consumer and particularly children’s rights.
Mr Pongwana said the challenges in access to communication included:
- Human capital and innovation.
- Shortage of engineers and skilled workers,and power supply.
- Current mobile retail prices are dependent on current electricity prices and supply from Eskom.
- Forced use of generators will increase costs.
- Spectrum delays in digital migration policy and policy on high demand spectrum.
- Rights of Way – municipalities prevent licensees from deploying infrastructure.
- Regulatory delays – lack of funding and adequate technical skills lead to long lead-times and reliance on consultants to conclude regulation-making.
There were also opportunities available, including network deployment -- mainly Rights of Way -- as the Constitutional Court had ruled in licensees’ favour on the right to access and deploy infrastructure. There would be job creation in the construction and electro-technical skills in the deployment of networks and high demand for technical skills for repair and maintenance of networks’ “low current” electrical, as well as spectrum management engineers. South Africa could drive regional internet penetration and global access to the internet with partnerships with our neighbours, considering cost-based access to under-sea cables and cost-based access to long-distance backhaul services.
In conclusion, there was a need for policy co-ordination between the service providers to avoid duplication and confusion. ICASA needs to conclude an ICT policy review collectively, review the institutional make-up and release the spectrum policy. There was a need to fasten the penetration for broadband internet 4G, fast-track digital migration, subsidise digital television and remove encryption. There were also funding challenges for ICASA, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and South African Post Office (SAPO).
Briefing by Dr Alison Gillwald
Dr Allison Gillwald, Executive Director, Research ICT Africa, pointed out that research showed that internet and computer penetration in South Africa was higher than in the rest of the continent but affordability of the data bundles still remained a key challenge. Convergence basically entailed offering services across traditionally distinct broadcasting and telecommunications platforms as a result of digitalisation and liberalisation of the market. The National Development Plan (NDP) diagnostic report showed that inequalities and uncompetitiveness of markets were reflected in the ICT sector, with untapped potential for growth and job creation. There was also a lack of always-available, high speed and quality bandwidth required for business, public institutions and citizens, which impacted negatively on the country’s development and global competitiveness.
The high input cost for business often disincentivised the investors and this negatively impacted on job creation, as was the case in Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). Universal access objectives were still not being met, as the HDIs were still being excluded. The broadband ecosystem was more than just infrastructure as there were numerous critical issues to be taken to into consideration including investment and demand, affordability and relevance, access and availability. According to ICT survey data, the households with computers increased from 15.6% in 2006 to 24.5% in 2012, and the households with TV increased from 65.5% in 2006 to 78.2% in 2012. In addition, households with internet in 2007 was 4.8% for households and 15% for individuals, and this had increased to 19.7% for households and 33.7% for individuals in 2012. Cellphone ownership was at 72.7% in 2007, and increased to 84.2% in 2012. This was mainly driven by a major decline in the price of smartphones.
The ICT by 2030 would underpin the development of a dynamic and connected information society and vibrant knowledge economy that was more inclusive and prosperous. A seamless information infrastructure needed to be universally available and accessible. The New Growth Path (NGP) clearly articulated that the national five-year economic plan for the country was the element of knowledge economy, an economy that was underpinned by access to affordable high speed broadband.
Dr Gillwald indicated that the solutions included the following:
- Deal with bottlenecks in infrastructure and industry-imperfect competition.
- Review institutional arrangements for effectively regulated competitive markets.
- Review market structure -- open access for regulated competitive services and prevent duplication of infrastructure investment.
- Manage incentives of investment in broadband network extension and spectrum management.
- Reduce broadband prices before wholesale regulation.
- Address net neutrality and safeguard a “free and open” internet.
- Secure environment of e-services, privacy, security surveillance.
- Need for integrated development -- informational development dependent on human development.
- Implementation of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) should focus on the coordination role of the departments.
Briefing by Dr Miriam Altman
Dr Miriam Altman, Head of Strategy, Telkom, said the world was moving from voice communication to high speed data connection. Technology was converging towards data and the cloud and those who were excluded, whether countries or people, would be left behind. Communication was the foundation for everything and increasingly a divider between those that ccould readily access services and those that were marginalised. In a context where technology to address access was now available off-the-shelf, it was a key facilitator of citizen engagement.
The digital divide in South Africa and throughout the world was deepening and this would entrench and deepen inequality. The South African business was well connected at the upper third in global rankings; however, South African citizens and the government were not, as they were in the bottom third in global ranking.
The three main pillars to ensure accessibility and affordability of broadband in the country included modernising commerce and taking advantage of new industries and growth. SA business was already ranked high globally, in the context of limited financial resources. Policy could focus on sustainable competition and ensuring service, access and competitive pricing. In terms of connecting government, the country ranked very low and this was a space where Rwanda and Kenya had leveraged to share the leading space in Africa. This was currently the main focus of government spending, but it had very little impact on outcomes. In universal access, South Africa was ranked low globally and it was important not to confuse this with mobile phone diffusion, which was widespread -- approximately one-third of South Africans are connected with broadband, often on a smart phone. However, this was still concentrated more in higher income communities than in remote areas.
South Africa is a middle income resource economy, although “middle income” is an illusions as “rents” are poorly distributed, and this is particularly common in African middle income resource economies. Manufacturing has a falling share of employment globally, and this is especially true in resource economies (partly due to exchange rates). SA is a big exporter of metals and slightly processed products, while new employment comes mostly from services, and the danger of the “middle income trap” is that a country must compete on product and technology. There is no doubt that most jobs are in services, as more than 70% of employment created is in services and this is very common globally. Services accounted for a rising share of global trade in 2012. There is a need to give more attention to stimulating ICT-related sectors, investing in Research and Development (R&D) and in e-establishment, to create the right complement of job opportunities.
The NDP gives attention to industrial promotion of services due to its role in job creation, and it is clear that SA does not take advantage of global trade in services as compared to Malaysia, Korea, Indonesia and Turkey. Success will depend on the telecommunications platform, product and innovation, skills base and competitive relations with countries like the USA. In India, between 2000 and 2010, about 2.5 million jobs were created in IT and network services and this again reaffirms the fact that employment in the ICT sector will play a leading role in sustainable poverty reduction.
The private sector plays a critical role in rolling out broadband and services, but in a highly unequal country like SA, government has to step in to drive equitable access. SA Connect is a comprehensive policy framework, but there are some design principles that could strengthen its impact, and these include approaching the public sector ICT projects and programmes and understanding the technological mix. Additional design principles could comprise stimulating R&D, innovation and adoption in key areas like education, health and safety and playing a closer role in the framing of industrial policy and in education. Fragmented spending across three spheres of government remains the biggest challenge to any focused effort to enable government services. There are national budget challenges, as the majority of the government ICT expenditures take place in provinces and metros and while billions are spent, it is fragmented and has not had a substantial impact on e-enabling government. The essential design principles primarily required are guidelines across government, likely issued by Treasury, for public sector ICT projects to ensure benefits are realised, expenditure alignment towards equitable access and funding public infrastructure so as to not rely on indirect obligations.
The NDP discussion on ICT is mainly located in the infrastructure chapter, but ICT is different to other areas of infrastructure as it is transformative technology requiring substantial systems change within economic, social and governance systems to have any real impact. This again requires effective piloting that is well monitored and evaluated for impact on efficiency, service delivery and outcomes. Home Affairs offers a good example of step by step systems change.
Dr Altman highlighted that education should be the top focal area as a way of creating an e-enabled population and also pulling people online. The ICT programme needed to move away from “prestige” projects towards eco-systems with people at the centre, offering end-to-end connectivity, cloud platform and compelling content. There was also a need to have a low cost device strategy, appropriate financing models) and the monitoring and evaluation of rollout and of outcomes.
In conclusion, ICT would play a critical role in reaching NDP employment, growth and poverty reduction objectives. The reach of broadband currently would entrench poverty and inequality in an increasingly digital world. Business was enabled, but government and citizens were not and government would have to play a leading role in reducing inequality and in promoting accessibility and affordability of the broadband. The future of work is in services, so the population and economy must be prepared to participate and compete. E-enablement of the population would play a key role in leveraging opportunities.
Mr Graham Beneke, co-chair of Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA), commented that the statistics showed that South Africa still had the highest penetration of computers and internet, and questioned the reliability of the statistics that South Africa was performing poorly in those areas.
Mr Setumo Mohapi, CEO, Sentech, said the main issue that the sector still needed to battle with was the lack of critical skills, as this was important for competitiveness and encouraging investment. The reason for the success of India in the ICT sector was the investment in education so as to remain competitive. South Africa needed to look beyond policy and regulation and explore other factors that were contributing to continuous disinvestment in the sector, compared to other middle-income countries. Investment in education was critically important and this could be started at primary school where students from an early age were being exposed to the ICT sector.
Mr Lesedi Rakgokong, Managing Director of Puisano Telecom, stated that South Africa needed to have a mind-set shift and this could start by regarding the ICT services as a basic service, like water, sanitation and housing. He firmly believed that if the country was serious about universal access, then the responsibility could not be given to service providers. The infrastructure was readily available from both Telkom and Broadband Infraco. The existing infrastructure could be consolidated to all the government institutions that had the fibre network to enable the country to provide broadband services to the masses. It was also high time that South Africa started thinking about setting up plants and manufacturing facilities to provide the tablets and ipads given to schools around Gauteng.
Mr Dlamini indicated that the importance of public consultation was clear, as the general public had rejected the e-tolling system in Gauteng as they had not been properly consulted on how the system would function. He recommended that the sector should create an ICT fund that would be sustainable, as all the government departments utilised ICT.
Dr Gillwald, supported the idea of having an interphase committee where there was coordination between the service providers, the parliamentary committee and the general public. The country should be looking at those policies and strategies that failed to deliver the desired results and find remedies that would propel broadband connectivity.
Dr Altman commented that South Africa had the potential to experience higher economic growth considering the diversification of the economy and the infrastructure that was already in place. The point of the NDP was to bring everybody together towards a vision of reducing the triple challenges facing the country. She agreed that exposing children to ICT at an early age was a wonderful idea as this would develop a passion for science and technology. Countries like India and China had entered the ICT sector through different stages, and due to the lack of substantial public finances and a good technology base, it had been impossible to simultaneously build up ICT capability and infuse ICTs into business. However, a country like South Africa had substantial public finances, a good technology base and strong universities, making it possible to simultaneously build up ICT capability and infuse ICTs into business and generate these businesses to make profit.
Mr Pongwana opined that the delegates paid less attention to the fact that most South Africans were still compelled to communicate in English, while the country had eleven official languages. It was apparent that South Africa was not ready to take bold decisions that would allow the ICT sector to create employment opportunities, reduce poverty and inequality. The duplication of services between the service providers was a huge waste of critical resources, as was the case in fibre networks. It was good that there were talks to bring technikons back, as there was a massive shortage of technicians.
It was estimated that there were about 40 000 unemployed graduates in the country and it was imperative to start thinking about emulating the strategy used in India, where unemployed graduates were given ICT skills (e.g. programming and software) in order to enter the labour market. Africa needed to promote the formation of testing centres for IT devices so as to avoid a situation where devices would be tested in Europe before being utilised on the continent.
The broadband policy of ICASA was to ensure that about 50% of population should have broadband coverage at 5Mbps by 2016 and 100% at 10 Mpbs by 2030, and also 50% of schools, health and other public institutions at 10 Mbps by 2016 and 100% at 1 Gbps by 2030. The Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) focused on expanding, modernizing and increasing affordability/accessibility of ICT infrastructure and services and increasing broadband penetration from the 2013 baseline of 33.7%, to 80% by 2019.
In conclusion, he suggested that the only way to promote accessibility and affordability was for the service providers to carry over data for 12 months, and then it could expire after that.
The Chairperson thanked everyone who had contributed to the engagements. It was clear that it had been a fierce debate, with great innovations and suggestions. There were a number of issues that had really come out sharply. These included the regulatory environment, policy framework, and the affordability and accessibility of broadband connectivity. R& D would be fundamental for the sustainability of the ICT sector and the ability of the country to remain competitive globally. The second day of the seminar would continue the following day.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Telecommunications & South Africa's growth, employment and poverty reduction aspirations
- Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services presentation
- State of ICT in South Africa 20 years on: Adapting to the Global ICT ecosystem
- ICASA presentation
- South African Communications Forum presentation
- LINK Centre: Public private partnerships: opportunities, complexities and Treasury regulations
- LINK Centre presentation on the role of the ICT sector
- Convergence Partners presentation
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