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LABOUR AND PUBLIC ENTERPRISE SELECT COMMITTEE
22 June 2005
CONVERGENCE: OVERVIEW BY TELKOM AND DEPARTMENT
Documents handed out:
Telkom: Policy and Regulation in an Era of Convergence
Department of Communications presentation on Broadcasting Act
Draft Black Economic Empowerment Charter for ICT Sector
Broadcasting Amendment Act No. 64 of 2002
Telkom presented an overview on Convergence and on comparative international experience. Telkom was positive that Convergence would ‘benefit the man on the street’ and that South Africa had the opportunity to reach economic and development goals through Convergence. The Department of Communications looked at the current legislation dealing with telecommunications and broadcasting from 1993 to the present, focusing on the objectives and goals of each piece of legislation. The Committee’s concerns centred on how convergence would benefit people at grassroots levels particularly previously disadvantaged communities. Other concerns were how Convergence would reduce communications costs in South Africa, protection of consumers from unsolicited communications and pornography.
Ms Nozicelo Ngcobo, Telkom’s Senior Manager (Parliament), gave a presentation on Policy and Regulation in an Era of Convergence which provided the Committee with an objective overview on Convergence (see document). Although there is not a universal definition for Convergence, its definition in South African terms could be seen as the convergence of technology, services and regulations, driven by market factors, customer needs, new technologies and a positive regulatory environment. A key regulatory consideration was that it narrow the digital divide and infrastructure roll-out was also an important consideration.
Ms Ngcobo explained that there was a need to harmonise the different Acts and Regulations currently governing Telecommunications and Broadcasting. Convergence offered the ideal opportunity to bring these together into one piece of legislation, the Convergence Bill, to improve service delivery to the end user. Different types of licences needed for different activities also need to be harmonised.
South Africa could benefit from the experience of other countries such as Malaysia, South Korea, Canada, India and the United Kingdom and Ms Ngcobo identified some key principles:
- Clear Regulatory Environment
- Effective & Independent Regulator
- Self-regulation & Co-regulation
- Fair & Balanced outcomes
- Consultative & Public process
Ms Temba, Ms Ntwanambi and Mr Mkono of ANC requested clarification on Telkom’s reference to convergence ‘benefiting the man on the street’. Ms Ntwanambi asked Telkom if it was afraid of competition and also requested an explanation of where convergence is not right.
Mr Mkono (ANC) expressed concern that there was no global definition for convergence.and queried what means of protection there was for those who receive unsolicited information.
In the light of the large number of unprofitable infrastructure licences in Malasia, Mr Sinclaire (NNP) asked how many licences should be issued to fit the environment in South Africa. He queried the time frame for the road map for convergence. He pointed out that Telkom did not have a positive record for communication costs and he wondered if convergence would bring down such costs for South African consumers.
Mr Sibiya (ANC) requested clarification on what Telkom meant by ‘Licence Exemptions’ in their presentation. He was also concerned about protection from unsolicited information.
Mr Gamede (ANC) asked about the benefits of convergence for the people on the ground especially those from previously disadvantaged communities - given that the majority of this group are not computer literate.
Mr Mkono wanted to know how the Convergence Bill would help South Africa market itself.
In response to these questions, Ms Ngcobo explained that ‘benefiting the man on the street’ was just an idiom used to mean convergence aimed to benefit the maximum number of people. The purpose of convergence was to promote competition among actors and not benefiting one at the expense of the other. Issuance of licences would carry obligatory contributions towards funds for social purposes to benefit those disadvantaged communities.
The absence of a definition of convergence was not a problem, but rather an opportunity for South Africa to define its own approach. In terms of protection, consumers had to understand the potential risks of using products and services arising from convergence like any other and therefore must exercise caution.
Ms Ngcobo stated that Telkom was not afraid of competition. There was the need for a Second National Operator (SNO) as being the only operator for 44 million people was a daunting task especially the requirements for universal access. For example, millions of telephone lines were connected but many were disconnected each year because people could not afford the R60 monthly rental. Competition would bring lower prices and more services.
It was up to the government to decide how many licences should be issued as this depended on economic conditions. In relation to this matter, the different Acts and Regulations need to be harmonised.
Department of Communication presentation
Ms Mmathapelo Lengosane, Department of Communication, looked at the current legislation dealing with telecommunications and broadcasting from 1993 to the present, focusing on the objectives and goals of each piece of legislation. She outlined the current broadcasting landscape, with the three layers of policy, regulation, and operators, and the three types of broadcaster: public, commercial and community. In this environment, the challenges facing the Convergence Bill [B-9 2005] were to balance technological development with social development, meet the diverse and changing needs of South Africans, reflect South Africa’s diversity, balance broadcasting’s educational, entertaining, and informational purposes, produce clear regulatory and policy frameworks, and to do so with limited resources.
Ms N Ntwanambi (ANC – Western Cape) asked where in the outlined landscape Multichoice fell, and if it would be included in the 'operator' category in the current broadcasting structure.
Ms Lengosane replied that the category of operator would include Multichoice, as they were an operator, similar to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) or e-TV.
In reply to Ms Ntwanambi asking if the Gender Commission referred to in the presentation was the same as the Commission on Gender Equality, Ms Lengosane assured her that it was.
Ms Ntwanambi also asked what ISA meant which was mentioned in the presentation.
Ms Lengosane answered that ISSA, the Institute for Satellite and Software Applications, was based in Grabouw, and was part of the Department of Communications.
Mr D Mokono (ANC – Eastern Cape) inquired about the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) and other statutory bodies described in the presentation, and asked what role these organisations played in regulating "nasty" TV content, including sexual scenes broadcast early in the evening. He asked if a formal complaint had been made, and if so, what the result had been.
Ms Lengosane responded that the Film and Publications Board (FPB) bore the responsibility for examining the content of films before they were released. However, it was felt that the Board might not adequately regulate the content of films and publications, and so the possibility of proposing an amendment to the Act which created the FPB. However, if an individual was offended by something within a broadcast, they ought to complain to the BCCSA, which would deal with the complaint as they saw fit, although that might not result in the complainant being fully satisfied.
Ms Ntwanambi asked if she could complain to BCCSA about Multichoice broadcasting explicit material too early, especially on the weekends, when children went to bed later. The broadcasting of explicit material should be restricted to after midnight.
Mr Mkono noted that there were also commercial reasons behind the broadcasting of explicit material and commented that with the quantity of explicit material on TV, TV was no longer desirable for children, due to the messages being sent and the lack of appropriate editing and quality control. It would be better to have designated channels to broadcast explicit material.
Mr J Sibiya (ANC – Limpopo) agreed with Mr Mkono’s comments, and noted that the presentation stated that part of the goal of previous broadcasting legislation was to "strengthen the spiritual and moral fibre of society," contributing to 'ubuntu' and the goodness of society.
Mr D Gamede (ANC – KwaZulu-Natal) noted that increasingly pornography was being viewed via TV, as it was more private and convenient. However, the Convergence Bill did not deal with pornography as an issue.
Ms Lengosane responded that porn was addressed in the amended Broadcasting Act, which provided measures to deal with content, and that additionally SABC had a comprehensive policy on content. However, as there were many players in the broadcasting industry, the challenge was to balance the freedom and players to provide profitable services and the free choice of people to use that service. Therefore, the issue was how to deal with the responsible broadcasting of explicit material, as the current measures, including ratings, warnings, and time restrictions, was not effective enough. Ideally, parents would take responsibility for their children’s viewing, and not expose them to material that was inappropriate to their age.
The meeting was adjourned.