ICT policy will allow SA to participate in the digital economy

The new National Integrated Information Communication Technology Policy (ICT Policy) White Paper will allow government to roll out quality communications and broadband infrastructure to reach all areas of the country and ensure universal access and services.

Unpacking the new policy at a media briefing in Pretoria on Sunday, Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele said the White Paper is an integrated and holistic policy that covers the ICT and postal sectors.

The policy was approved by Cabinet this week and paves the way for the start of a legislative program that will amend laws where necessary and set up new proposed structures or institutions.

The Minister said the policy will guide government interventions into the sector for a period of 10 years while reducing South Africa’s reliance on international studies.

“The White Paper contains integrated policies that will improve access to modern communications and postal infrastructure and services for all, improve the ability of all citizens to meaningfully participate in the digital economy and simplify the regulatory regime to foster competition and make it easier to comply,” he said, adding that it will further bring certainty in the market.

The ultimate goal, Minister Cwele said, is to ensure that everyone, regardless of who they are, where they live or their social or economic standing, can benefit from the opportunities offered by ICTs either on an individual or shared basis.

The policy introduces clear and distinct roles for the Minister, sector regulator, development funding agency and operators in achieving the universal service and access targets.

For example, all policy-related functions currently residing with the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA) will be transferred to the Minister, while the 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.

Digital Development Fund

The policy also introduces a Digital Development Fund which will replace the Universal Service and Access Fund.

The new Digital Development Fund will focus on the extension of infrastructure, end user and equipment subsidies, support 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.

“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,” Minister Cwele said.

The paper also envisages two forms of regulators, one focusing on the regulation of telecommunications and postal networks and services and the other focusing on content and audio visual services.

Further, the policy proposes that a new economic regulator of ICTs be established which will incorporate the functions of .ZADNA and other functions from the existing regulator.

.ZADNA is a not-for-profit company, accountable to the Ministry, which manages and regulates the .za namespace.

Minister Cwele explained that the policy will introduce the principles of open Internet and the net neutrality framework.

These will 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 further put in place measures to encourage the establishment of data centres to encourage geographic distribution of specialised IT skills.

Minister Cwele said: “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 further support new data centre entrants by utilising their services.”

In addition to this, government will also facilitate the development of South African search and browser applications that provide locally-oriented content.

“This will ensure that South Africa does not only become a consumer of search engines and browser products, as this presents economic losses and deprives South Africa of an opportunity to provide South Africa-specific content through such platforms.”

With regards to the Wireless Open Access Network (OAN) – the policy recommends that it be a public-private sector-owned and managed consortium which will consist of entities that are interested in participating such as electronic communications services, infrastructure companies, private equity investors, SMMEs and Internet service providers.

This will ensure 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.

The paper also indicates that a Rapid Deployment National Co-ordination Centre 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.

With regards to the postal sector, the policy integrates the Post Office into the way citizens access government services, including through using digital services.

In this regard, the Post Office will be the first point of presence for access to digital government services, Minister Cwele said.

“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.”

Source: Government Communication and Information System.