South Africa unveils new broadband strategy

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South African Communications Minister Yunus Carrim, says his department’s new broadband strategy plan is expected to come before Cabinet at its next ordinary meeting on 4 December 2013.

The plan, the minister said, would ensure that every South African is able to access the internet by 2020.

Speaking to journalists at the Cape Town Press Club on 25 November 2013, Carrim admitted that for the last 15 years, South Africa’s broadband policy has been lagging behind.

Just one in five South Africans access the internet, compared to nearly half of those in Brazil and almost two thirds of those in Malaysia.

Carrim said should Cabinet approve the broadband strategy, the department will release a Green Paper on broadband policy.

At the end of January or in early February 2014, his department plans to hold national consultations and plans then to release a White Paper by July 2014, which Carrim said would pave the way for a new ICT dispensation.

He said the department wanted to bring down mobile termination rates, the rate charged by one operator to connect to a call to another operator, from 40c to 10c by 2016.

Under an Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) driven glide path, mobile termination rates have fallen from ZAR1.25 in 2010 to 40c this year and will drop to 20c by 1 April 2013.

Icasa is also currently considering further ways in which to get cellphone operators to bring down the high cost of cellphone calls and data fees, he said.

Government could not interfere in the market itself, but Carrim said there was a feeling among those in developing countries that regulators were unable or unwilling to intervene to bring down high cellphone rates.

“We are trying to tell them that it is in the interests, in the whole, for economic development, to bring down communications costs,” he said, adding that high communication costs were a barrier for investors entering the country.

Carrim quoted a 2011 report by Unesco, which found that a 10% point rise in broadband penetration added 1.38% points to economic growth.

He said he would next year issue a policy directive to ICASA to compel cellphone operators to publish transparent pricing of services.

Cellphone operators MTN and Vodacom, he said, hold 80% of the market by customers and 90% of the market by revenue in the world.

A World Economic Forum (WEF) report released earlier this year, the Global Information Technology Report 2013, ranked 89th out of the 144 economies when it came to the affordability of fixed broadband Internet tariffs and 117 when it comes to the affordability of mobile cellular tariffs.

Turning to other matters, Carrim, who is trying to discipline public servants accused of wrongdoing in the department he took over in July 2013, said he was still waiting for the Public Service Commission to conclude disciplinary procedures relating to two staff members. This after his department’s ethics committee referred the matter to the commission.

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