South Africa’s policies on new technologies and services, and their implementatio,n are lagging way behind many developed countries, and it is losing commercial opportunities to other countries in Africa.
Even South Africa’s telecommunications and broadcasting service providers are increasingly investing in more liberal African countries that have either the relevant enabling legislation, or at least have no prohibiting legislation.
For instance, mobile broadcasting services have been launched in Namibia, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya – all of them each ahead of South Africa.
"South Africa could learn a lesson from some African countries that have liberalised their regulations," says Wendy Rahamim, a telecommunications and broadcasting law specialist at law firm Werksmans.
Amanda Armstrong, a telecommunications and broadcasting law specialist at Werksmans, adds: "Markets drive trends, not governments. Governments need to allow the markets and technology to move forward."
Broadcasting innovations which are being held back in South Africa include such vital services as digital terrestrial television – the format in which the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup is required to be broadcast – and mobile broadcasting.
Werksmans represents a number of major South African telecommunications and broadcasting companies in various African markets, and has made representations in many of these jurisdictions, calling on legislators to introduce legislation that is technology-neutral, in line with international best practice, and which will enable future technologies rather than delay their commercial launch into the market.
It has found that a factor vital to a flourishing telecommunications and broadcasting sector is a legislative and regulatory framework that is flexible enough to cater for future technological changes – whatever they may be.
"Many African countries have identified the telecommunications and broadcasting sector as vital to economic growth and have adopted the international best practice of technology-neutral regulation, thereby attracting investment flows ahead of their neighbours," says Armstrong. This demonstrates an understanding of the unique nuances of the technology sector.
While the trend is by no means uniform, or even a general trend, there are pockets of liberalisation in Africa, and these countries are attracting investment flows, they say.
Werksmans cites a number of African countries that have adopted this approach, and are today host to the latest services such as digital terrestrial television and mobile broadcasting (broadcasting to cell-phones), whilst others like South Africa are inhibiting the development of new services using innovative technologies.