The recently-launhed ICT Policy White Paper aims to create an ecosystem that helps to identify areas where there are ICT infrastructure and service gaps, the reasons for the gaps, direct government and private sector investment into these areas and measure the progress made in closing the digital divide.
Siyabonga Cwele, minister of telecommunications and postal services, explains that the document brings much-needed certainty in the market, and should guide the ICT industry for next 10 years.
The ICT Policy White Paper touches on a number of issues:
Universal service and access
The policy sets out a clear framework and process to develop definitions and targets for universal service, universal access and related concepts. It introduces a flexible evidence-based framework to respond to changes in technology and ensure new digital divides do not emerge.
The policy improves the framework for universal service obligations on licensees to ensure that obligations are clear defined, robust, proportionate to market share and are enforceable. It also outlines clear and distinct roles for the Minister, sector regulator, development funding agency and operators in achieving the universal service and access targets.
In line with this, the Minister is responsible for formulating policy approaches to universal service and access. All policy-related functions currently residing with the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA) will be transferred to the Minister.
Regulatory functions such as licence conditions to advance universal service and access and monitoring of rollout of networks currently residing with USAASA will be transferred to the regulator.
The Universal Service and Access Fund will be replaced by the Digital Development Fund, which will focus on the extension of infrastructure, end user and equipment subsidies, supporting digital literacy and skill development, funding to extend access to digital government services, and support for innovative use by SMMEs of ICTs to improve productivity, sustainability and competitiveness.
Innovation and fair competition
The policy encourages fair and sustainable competition to ensure that all users have access to a choice of affordable services that meet their specific needs. It also promotes certainty about the competition regulatory framework and the roles and responsibilities of each regulator to limit the phenomenon of forum shopping.
This policy the regulator to undertake regular evidence-based reviews of potential bottlenecks and the impact of existing pro-competitive measures. In addition to formal market reviews, the regulator will be required to regularly conduct and publish overviews of performance across all ICT sectors. This must include assessment of affordability of services, accessibility to services, quality of service and impact on users.
The policy sets out a framework for co-operation with other regulators like the Competition Commission.
ICT and convergence
In terms of the policy, the allocation of adequate radio frequency spectrum to enable the provision of free to air and other broadcasting activities will be achieved through the allocation and preservation of specific bands for broadcasting and audio visual services. These bands will be identified and allocated in the National Radio Frequency Plan.
The Policy clearly sets out the role of the regulator and of the ministers of communications and telecommunications and postal services.
The White Paper envisages two forms of regulators. One focusing on regulation of telecommunications and postal networks and services; and the other focusing on content and audio visual services. The policy proposes that a new economic regulator of ICTs be established.
The new regulator will incorporate the functions of .ZADNA and other functions from the existing regulator. It would also incorporate postal services regulation.
This will facilitate decisive intervention by government.
The policy introduces the principles of open Internet and the net neutrality framework to ensure that all lawful and legal Internet traffic is treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, regardless of the sender, receiver, content, device, service, or application. This will preserve the free Internet and pre-empt possible unfair treatment by intermediaries.
Government will put in place measures to encourage the establishment of data centres in other geographic areas to encourage geographic distribution of specialised IT skills. This will be done in collaboration with other stakeholders and will be part of a broader campaign to promote wider participation in the data centre market. Government will support new data centre entrants by using their services.
Government will also facilitate development of South African search and browser applications that provide locally-oriented content.
Government will put in place measures to promote and facilitate the development of additional Internet Exchange Points in provinces currently not covered in order to cater for South Africa’s future internet growth.
The policy defines Open Access as “wholesale access provided to electronic communications network infrastructure or services on terms that are reasonable, effective, transparent and non-discriminatory”.
It is backed by principles of openness, transparency, equal access and non-discrimination, sharing and non-duplication and efficiency, standardisation and reasonableness.
The open access principle is applicable to all networks and aims to, amongst others, facilitate infrastructure sharing, address market dominance and market concentration and competition. Entities that control critical resources will be obliged to provide access to essential facilities at regulated, cost-based prices.
Wireless Open Access Network (OAN)
The Wireless OAN will be a public-private sector-owned and managed consortium, and will consist of entities that are interested in participating. Participants may include current holders of electronic communications service (ECS) and electronic communications network service (ECNS) licenses, infrastructure companies, private equity investors, SMMEs, Internet service providers, over the top players and mobile virtual network operators.
The objectives of open access networks includes creating a clear access regime that is enforceable, ensuring that operators with significant market power do not leverage access to their infrastructure and critical resources to maintain dominance and deny market access to competition.
This new regime necessitates a revised licensing framework to accommodate more players and open up the market for more competition. The new policy environment of open and shared networks will enable competition to be focused at the service level, enabling multiple service providers to provide high quality and innovative products and services to South Africans at affordable rates.
This policy approach will also promote the extension and deployment of networks in rural and underserviced areas to support inclusive economic growth. This will in turn facilitate universal service and access and meet the SA Connect targets of broadband access to all.
Radio Frequency Spectrum Policy
The policy provides the basis for the planning and management of the radio frequency spectrum, defining spectrum as an important utility and a public good. The policy outlines spectrum management principles that will cater for existing, new and future demands. This policy allocates spectrum for various services including spectrum for scientific research and emergency services.
As a result, the policy puts forward measures to support a paradigm shift towards non-exclusive assignment of highly contested spectrum in bands where demand exceeds the amount of spectrum available.
The policy also clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the minister and the regulator to remove institutional inefficiencies such as gaps in the spectrum management regime with regard to the alignment between national universal service objectives and the licensing of frequency spectrum resources, the setting of spectrum fees, spectrum trading, sharing, re-farming and migration.
High demand spectrum bands
High demand spectrum bands refer to spectrum where demand for access to the radio spectrum resource exceeds supply, or instances where radio spectrum is fully assigned. In this regard, all high demand spectrum will be assigned on an open access basis. All currently unassigned high demand spectrum will be set aside for assignment to the Wireless Open Access Network and will be treated in line with the above policy principle.
Rapid Deployment Policy
The new policy aims to reduce costs and complexities by simplifying and streamlining the framework, supported by clear strategies and measures, to accelerate the infrastructure deployment process.
This policy is premised on the principle that electronic communications network service (ECNS) licensees have the right to access any property in order to deploy their networks and that in exercising their rights, they are bound by considerations of administrative justice and in particular reasonableness and due care.
The policy provides a framework for ECNS licensees and landowners to work together for the public benefit while upholding the right of ECNS licensees to access property in order to deploy their networks. It also provides that no municipality may use the application process for the deployment of electronic communication facilities as a revenue generating mechanism. Fees for the approval of the deployment of electronic communication facilities must be cost-based.
A Rapid Deployment National Co-ordination Centre will be established to work with the Strategic Integrated Project 15 infrastructure team to support rapid deployment and interface with local municipalities to fast track rights of way and way-leave approvals.
The White Paper introduces policy frameworks to transform South Africa to an inclusive digital society, on three key pillars:
* Digital transformation of government to synchronise the approaches to digital transformation adopted by different government departments and address uneven capacity across government to roll out digital solutions and services.
* Digital access focuses on e-skilling, development of digital identity verification systems and promoting trust and security.
* Digital inclusion to ensure that no South African citizen is excluded from the benefits of a digital economy and knowledge society.
The White Paper proposes the establishment of a Cabinet Digital Transformation Committee and reinforcing participation by all social partners. This structure will foster cooperation and collaboration between different government entities and spheres to ensure that the above principles are rigorously applied. The Digital Transformation Committee will oversee the development of a detailed, integrated national digital government strategy and roadmap. To promote ease of use of ICTs, a single online access point for all e-government services will be developed and a plan for achieving this incorporated into the e-government strategy and roadmap.
In order to promote affordable access to key public services and information, government, working with the regulator, will investigate the viability of zero-rating data fees to access clearly defined public interest digital applications, content and services, including emergency services.
A clear Open Government Data action plan and manual will be developed through consultation with all relevant stakeholders.
The White Paper provides for the restructuring of the South African Postal Office and the postal sector in general to contribute towards the provision of universal access to innovative e-services while at the same time continuing to provide quality and secure traditional postal services. It also addresses issues pertaining to the postal sector market structure, licensing and financial inclusion.
The policy sets out a new licensing framework for the postal sector.
ICT industry growth
This policy defines the ICT sector and its value chains and positions the ICT sector in the industrialisation and reindustrialisation of South Africa.
Government will establish an ICT Industry Growth Coordinating Mechanism to implement the research and development roadmap. An ICT RDI Investment and Planning Advisory Council including senior officials from various government departments, as well as industry and research institutions and civil society representatives, will be established to support the Office of Digital Advantage, which is provided for in the ICT RDI Roadmap.
Government to make provision for RDI Funding as part of the Digital-DF (ring-fencing). Policy also encourages non-regulated ICT companies to contribute to the Digital-DF. Government will also explore measures aimed at introducing a creative commons IP licensing framework and utility models, to enabling entrepreneurship development. Skills development and e-literacy interventions are also at the centre of the Policy.
Government will aim to develop at least one technology hub in each of the country’s metros and one each in provinces without metros over the short-to-medium term. These hubs will serve as zones in which ICT entrepreneurs are incubated, formal RDI entities (universities and research institutes) and industry partners could co-exist.
Regulation and governance of the ICT sector is currently spread across different entities including the government, ICASA, .zaDNA and USAASA.
According to the White Paper, all policy-making functions will be consolidated and assigned to government.
All regulatory responsibilities will be assigned to the regulator. This regulator will oversee and promote Internet governance, licensing and regulation of networks, services, spectrum and other scarce ICT-related resources, to achieve the objectives set in policy and law. A key critical component of the regulatory activities will be about competition regulation. It will be funded through a hybrid funding model.
A new Digital Development Fund is established to manage the universal service funds and to manage the rollout of programmes to address the digital divide and ensure universal access to infrastructure and services by all South Africans.