The widespread use of affordable broadband in South Africa has received another blow, with guidelines being proposed by the Department of Communications (DoC) posing a possible setback to access to new submarine cables.
The Minister of Communications, Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, has published guidelines for the operation and landing of submarine cables in South Africa – and is hoping to legislate a 51% South African or African shareholding in any cable landing here.
Not content with stipulating that the company which lands the cable be South African- or African-owned, the DoC wants ownership of the whole cable – from where it lands in South Africa, up the coast of Africa, to its final landing in Europe, North Africa or Asia, to be locally-held.
Notice of the proposed guidelines were published in the Government Gazett on 22 February and comments must be received within 30 days.
The document goes by the title of "Rapid Deployment of Electronic Communications Facilities of the Electronic Communications Act, 2005".
The proposed guidelines stipulate that an international submarine cable can only be landed or operated in South Africa with the written authorisation of the Minister, following an environment impact study.
To qualify for authorsation, an applicant must be registered as an individual electronics communications network service.
Regarding equity ownership, the guidelines state: "South African entities must, at the time of filing and throughout the term of the authorisation have in respect of the international submarine cable tha the applicant wishes to connect to South Africa, a combined entity ownership interest, on its own or jointly with other African entities as authorised by the Minister, that is equal to or greater than 51%.
"In any case where an individual electronic communications network service licensee will own less than a 51% equity interest in the international submarine cable system, it may join with one of more other individual electronic communications network service licensees and file a joint application, such that the total equity ownersuip interests in the international submarine cable system held by the joint applicants is equal to or exceeds 51%."
There has already been vocal opposition to the proposed guidelines voiced.
According to a report in Business Day, Democratic Alliance communications spokeswoman Dene Smuts has criticised the requirement as being designed for nothing other than the rapid enrichment of African participants in submarine cables.
Comments on the guidelines must be submitted by 22 March.