Convergence Bill: briefing

Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


3 June 2005

Ms M Morutoa (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Convergence Bill: Department presentation
Convergence Bill [B9 – 2005]

The Committee was briefed by the Department of Communications on the Convergence Bill. The presentation outlined what the Bill would accomplish, what each of the Chapters entailed and how it would affect the lives of South Africans, particularly women. Members asked for information and clarification on specifically targeting women as beneficiaries, coverage in rural areas, content regulation and job opportunities.

The Committee had also meant to adopt minutes from previous meetings, the Committee report on the Department budget, and the report on the hearings on the National and Provincial Gender Machinery. However, there were so few Members present that they could not form a quorum.

The Chairperson welcomed a group of female educators from the SA Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) Western Region in Mpumalanga. The Committee had supposed to adopt minutes from previous meetings, the Committee report on the Department budget, and the report on hearings on the National and Provincial Gender Machinery. However, there were so few Members present that they could not form a quorum.

Ms B Ntuli (ANC) said that women had not been well represented in the list of speakers on the budget vote as the Committee had only been given one slot.

Department briefing
The Department of Communications was represented by Mr J Mjwara, Senior General Manager: Multimedia Unit and Mr E Baloyi, Legal Advisor. Mr Mjwara outlined the purpose of the Convergence Bill, which was intended to put all forms of communication, such as phones, television, radio and Internet onto the same network. This would allow for only one unit to provide all of these services. This new technology created a need for new legislation to regulate and integrate services. Mr Baloyi outlined the detail of each Chapter of the Bill, mentioning areas of social impact.

Ms S Vos (IFP) said that in the previous Telecommunications Act, there had been a lot of effort made to ensure that the objectives specifically mentioned the empowerment and upliftment of women. In this Bill, women had been included under the empowerment of the historically disadvantaged. She was concerned about accepting that ‘historically disadvantaged’ automatically meant women, because it also meant men. She therefore felt that women should be given a special place in the Bill and that there should be a gender theme throughout.

Ms Ntuli agreed with Ms Vos about specifying women’s interests and asked for a definition of SMMEs. The Bill addressed the interests of consumers regarding prices, but did not address how women or the poor could participate in business opportunities.

Ms Masilo said that there was technology to talk to people in other countries and asked if that fit into the converged communications connection. She asked if convergence would reduce paperwork and said that in rural areas there was a lack of coverage, especially in radio.

The Chairperson said that she would allow the educators from SADTU to contribute as well.

Mr Mjwara said that Object B ensured access for all and Object G related to empowering historically disadvantaged persons. This terminology was generally understood to relate to women and others needing special attention. They had considered using terminology dealing with designated groups, but felt that historically disadvantaged was the more widely used and understood term. Object K also ensured that communication services were provided by persons from a diverse range of communities, not just those in the ‘first economy’. Object P dealt with the need to develop and promote SMMEs and Chapter 3 included further activities that needed to occur to achieve the objectives. They could impose a quota on the provision of licenses to women, but this law did not specify those specific regulatory requirements. The regulator was given the power to set out the exact requirements that would allow women to communicate equally. The Department had also been involved in the drafting of the BEE Charter, which was another level at which to empower women. The legislation should be read with the view that it did not cover everything and that there was a second regulatory part to complement it.

Mr Baloyi said that in Clause 8(a) and (b), these issues were also covered. The Minister was the one who was responsible for deciding which areas licenses would be granted in, depending on need, so that the rollout of services would cover under-serviced areas. This also applied to ICASA, so that the licenses ICASA issued had a specific geographic reach that included under-serviced areas.

Mr Mjwara said that this network was meant to allow communication with any part of the world. They were trying to remove any limitations to that, but needed to acknowledge that not all South Africans had access to services. The greatest setbacks in coverage had been seen in fixed telephone lines because Telkom had to cut back its services because of the explosion of mobile phone use. This was part of a global phenomenon, and mobile phone coverage was about 90%. In terms of broadcasting, the biggest network, SABC 2, covered about 93%, but the others also covered the majority of South Africa. As technology improved, fewer resources would be required to extend access to the whole country. The Department was engaged in an exercise with the MDDA (the Media Diversity and Development Agency) to pinpoint where under-serviced areas were and what services were not being received, so they anticipated a faster roll-out in the future.

Mr Mjwara said that there were initiatives to ensure that the cyber-dialogue did take place. Parliament, for example, would be interested in having meetings with people in communities without having to travel there. They were in the process of equipping them to do that and would hopefully have that system running by the end of the year.

Ms Mdaka said that there were programmes and content on television unsuitable for children, so there needed to be more control over what was shown. Educational programmes for children were played when children were at school so they served no purpose.

Ms Tshwete asked if timeframes for licensing could be extended. There were small communications companies owned by women, and the Bill might cause unemployment for them. She asked if the Department would conduct an audit of women who were already working in the communications sector to see what would happen to them. No license may be granted to a body or organisation that was of a party-political nature, but some political programmes existed and she asked what would happen to them.

Ms Ntuli said that the Bill stated that certain regulations ‘may’ be made, which meant that the authorities were not obliged to act in certain areas. She asked why that was the case and also asked about language diversity.

Ms Patricia Mahlobogoane, the Gender Convenor for SADTU Western Region from Mpumalanga, said that in the rural areas, they were concerned about the lack of access to the Internet or telephone coverage. She asked what communications modes would be converged, how user friendly it would be and about issues of security from theft by people who did not have a license, as happened with electricity. The gap between the ‘haves and the have-nots’ was widening and women were often in the latter. She worried that the Bill would widen the gap even more. There was also concern about the minimal media coverage of women, for example in sports, so she asked how the Convergence Bill would promote the coverage of women’s issues. She also asked what type of support or assistance those applying for licenses would receive from the government, and asked if convergence would cause job losses.

The Deputy Chairperson said that Chapter 10 addressed transparency and consumer protection, and she asked about protection for workers who were often disadvantaged. The technology being developed would make life easier, but would still not be accessible to the poor.

Mr Mjwara said that the Portfolio Committee on Communications had held a hearing on content, which included children’s programming and pornography, but it was an ongoing issue. Government could not ban any content because of the right to freedom of speech, but there was a classification board that certified content and gave age restrictions. The broadcasting system had a code of conduct, so there were certain times of day when content unsuitable for children would not be shown and shows with an age restriction were labelled.

Ms Ntuli said that some parents did not know what those classifications meant or could not read it in English.

Mr Mjwara said that discussion on this matter and the issue of language was important. They would like to see it standardised on all broadcasting stations, so that classifications could be easily identified, but there needed to be an awareness campaign. The timeframe when stations could not play anything unsuitable for children ended at 9:00 PM, but maybe it should be changed to 10:00 PM. ICASA was currently looking into these issues to determine how the system could be structured to protect consumers without censorship. Mr Mjwara said that he would like to get the educators’ perspectives on what else could be done on the issue of educational materials that might not be in accordance with standards and whether they had an impact in schools.

Mr Baloyi said that most of the communications SMMEs (Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises) run by women were probably public phones. In the convergence environment, the woman running that service would be able to go to ICASA to apply for a license and would not have to rely on MTN or Vodacom to provide the services, which would actually expand the role for SMMEs. Previously, an individual running an SMME would find it extremely difficult to apply for a broadcasting license because it required a lot of money. A new category of licenses had been created called ‘under-serviced area licenses,’ and these licensees would also qualify for a grant from the Universal Service Agency to ensure easier market access. The term ‘may’ was used because there were certain areas where there was no need for regulatory involvement because the Act was sufficient.

Mr Mjwara said that ICASA might develop different regulations for different types of licenses, so ‘may’ meant that regulations would be enacted where required, but they were not required all the time. With respect to issuing licenses and dealing with issues of gender and empowerment, regulation was compulsory because these things were included as Objects of the Act. To audit the Act to see if it was successful, they would need to look at how many women had been empowered through the convergence processes. The Objects of the Act stated that licenses would not be issued unless it was demonstrated that women were involved. In terms of the issue of penetration and Internet in schools in rural areas, they must look at convergence within the specific South African context. Part of the reason telecommunications services did not penetrate was because of the cost, so convergence was meant to decrease costs. The licenses awarded would specify a target for coverage, so that it was not left up to the market to determine how much area a licensee covered. The Department wanted to get involved in terms of who was providing the communications linkages and how much they were charging in order to be aware of the agreements that had been signed.

He continued that public schools were given specific treatment to access the Internet at half the price. There was a question of extending this discount to phone services as well, but it would not be easy to regulate the calls being made. With the Convergence Bill, they saw costs coming down because operators would be competing for the same areas to service and would be forced to go to rural areas if they wanted to increase their customer base. In terms of user-friendliness, technology improvements were driven by the need to reach the consumer and make the technology appealing to consumers. The most user-friendly technology would gain the most market share, so whether it was user-friendly or not was crucial for the success of the business. There were many debates in the country about language, including whether SABC services offered adequate levels of diverse languages. A Bill had been passed mandating the SABC to diversify into regional languages and in many areas, a variety of services were increasingly offered in the language of choice. They had to ensure that these languages continued being used, and had to relate this trend to the ICT industry. As long as there was demand and enough mandated competition, coverage would improve. They might have to look at some aspects of governmental intervention in municipalities to ensure that the appropriate facilities were established.

Ms Ntuli asked for elaboration on license exemptions and the prohibition of provisional services without a license.

Ms Vos said that because they had the educators from Mpumalanga there, they should get some indication of whether their schools had computers or access to the Internet.

Ms Mahlobogoane said that most schools did not have any computers besides the one supplied by the Department of Education, but none of them had Internet access. Some of the computers supplied had been stolen and in other schools, only the principal had access to the computer, so if the principal was not there, there was no computer.

The Chairperson said that Members should deal with this question when they went to their constituencies.

Mr Mjwara said that the law was very specific that they could not give a license to any party-political organisation, but broadcasters were required to make airtime available to political parties on an equal and fair basis. The law had been amended two years ago to ensure that there was coverage of women’s sports and developmental sports on broadcasting stations, but this was new and had to be increased. ICASA and the SABC were working on that issue, and the SABC’s new license would reflect new quota levels for the coverage of women’s sports and programming. Last year they had completed an ICT policy for schools with the Department of Education in order to address the issue of how computers could be integrated into learning and teaching activities. The Department of Education was going to try to transform itself into an ICT enabled deliverer, so they needed to find a way to ensure that all schools would have access and that the content would be regulated. Adequate security was a community problem and there needed to be wider societal involvement to ensure that the technology was available and secure.

Mr Baloyi said that any telecommunications service required a license. Where it was provided without a license, an exemption must be given by the authority to limit problems with interference and to manage the spectrum. There was an exemption given, for example, on the remotes used to open security gates.

One of the educators from SADTU suggested that licenses could be given to view television shows that had been classified beyond a certain level.

The Chairperson said that other issues could be passed on to the Communications Committee, where they could be better dealt with.

The meeting was adjourned.


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