Despite the positive, well-intended rationale behind South Africa’s new National Integrated Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Policy White Paper, the implementation of the policy could turn the industry on its head and into untested, questionable territory.
The implementation of some of the proposals in the policy were risky ventures that held too many possible unintended negative consequences, with failed or unproven concepts that went against the grain of international trends, market research, analysis, advisory and consulting firm Africa Analysis MD Dobek Pater said on Wednesday.
In October 2016, the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper crossed its final procedural milestone – approval by Cabinet – six years after its initiation, and to mixed reaction.
While many industry proponents concede that some of the aspects contained within the paper are positive – with several having been on the cards for a number of years and just needing to be fast-tracked – government’s push to open the market, increase customer choice, reduce the cost to communicate and improve universal access may backfire on the back of some “radical” proposals that are “questionable”.
Pater pointed to serious risks such as the White Paper’s shifting of power into the fold of the government as opposed to independent bodies, leaving the public sector with an enhanced role and greater industry control.
The creation of a multibillion-rand single national wireless wholesale network that used high-demand spectrum – 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 2 500 MHz – has also raised concerns of a “nationalisation scenario” wherein all the high-demand spectrum is amalgamated into a State-owned network, with the intended “recovery” of some of the already licensed spectrum.
The restructure of statutory bodies, the open-access principle and two overlapping ministries – the Department of Postal Services and Telecommunications and the Department of Communications – structured separately with differing policies, held disadvantages that could be harmful if not mitigated, or where proposals were not implemented efficiently, effectively and correctly.
However, many concepts highlighted in the White Paper are positive, including the significant focus on openness and customers, which could enhance competition to a degree, and the call for evidence-based regulatory intervention, besides others.
“There are positive aspects contained in the paper, but is this the best way to achieve it?,” Pater asked.
As the implementation approach of the policy was yet to be determined, he suggested the private sector and stakeholders should engage government on some of the contested and concerning sections of the policy before heading into litigation, which could further delay industry progress and ambitions, including the release of high-demand spectrum.
Speaking at a Free Market Foundation- (FMF-) hosted policy discussion on Wednesday, Pater said there were other far less risky methods of achieving the same end-goal that might even have better outcomes than what is proposed in the ICT White Paper.
“Everything that is contained in the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper already exists in the Electronic Communications Act – but many of these caveats have never been implemented,” he said, adding that South Africa’s ICT industry and market may not be perfect, but it worked well.
“If it’s not broken, if it works fairly well, why turn the market 180° on its head into the unknown?”
The FMF indicated that South Africa’s gains could be reversed by introducing a policy that proposed “rare, unproven and failed” alternatives that had far-reaching consequences.
“We should have policy to make market entry easy and competition vigorous,” said FMF executive director Leon Louw, adding that the National Integrated ICT Policy was not following proven international models and greater clarity was needed on many points contained within the framework.