Broadband requires policy push PDF Print E-mail
Sentech and ICASA must overcome resource and spectrum hurdles to bridge the digital divide, says Ellipsis. While several draft broadband policies are under way for receiving public comment, SA is still no closer to effectively addressing the broadband digital divide, says Dominic Cull, telecommunications lawyer from Ellipsis Regulatory Solutions.

“The South African government needs to intervene to expand networks into marginal areas in conjunction with USAASA [the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA] and industry. It also needs to take a leading role in increasing uptake and usage of broadband through the provision of local content and e-government services,” Cull pointed out.

Cull discussed SA`s broadband policy and regulatory framework at the ITWeb Broadband conference last week. He said the state`s role in implementing the draft National Broadband Policy should be developing national, provincial and municipal broadband strategies and co-ordinating implementation on a continuous basis.

According to Cull, some of the major challenges which need to be addressed include broadband pricing, the provision of broadband infrastructure and services in under-serviced areas, strengthening ICASA and its ability to regulate the provision of broadband services, and consumer protection.

Currently, SA has 2% broadband penetration, and Cull said the draft National Broadband policy aims to shift that figure up.

Solving spectrum snags

According to Cull, the deadline for comments for the draft National Spectrum Policy is 17 October. The policy is intended to provide guidance to ICASA in its management of radio frequency spectrum, which will be supplemented by the Department of Communications.

Cull noted: “Special emphasis must be placed on the promotion of shorter implementation periods for wireless technologies. The hoarding of spectrum by operators is not conducive to efficient spectrum usage and this practice is strongly disapproved of. ICASA shall strictly apply the principle of use it or lose it to all spectrum licensees.”

He also questioned Sentech`s capability and capacity to provide national wireless backbone services. In addition, Sentech, which had been awarded R500 million by treasury and had requested R4 billion, revealed it would no longer provide consumer broadband services, closing down My Wireless.

“Spectrum management is a mess,” added Cull, “and it`s going to be the Department of Communications which will come to the rescue. We will have an initial report on spectrum of up to 3Ghz from the middle of next year and whether they are using the spectrum lawfully.”

Call for action

Cull said comments due for the draft Local and Digital Content Development Strategy are due for 20 October. The framework aims to increase broadband uptake by government-led developers of content and provision of e-government services.

ICASA licence conversion means there are a lot of new entrants, approximately 200, with the right to self-provide infrastructure and to provide broadband services. However, Cull said developments in international and national links have created opportunities for new entrants.

“But having the right to provide broadband infrastructure and services is not sufficient,” Cull pointed out. “This is because it`s capital-intensive to establish a network, and the regulator is weak, with control remaining with the incumbents.”

He added: “ICASA is currently underperforming and is extremely vulnerable to political influence and legal threats from operators. There`s still a great deal to be done by ICASA to establish a regulatory framework conducive to the development of new broadband services.

“What we really need is decisive action with frameworks, timelines and measurable objectives.”

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