Whether they are aware of it or not, no South African is immune to the consequences of an uncertain information and communication technology (ICT) future.
Government has committed, in the National Development Plan (NDP), to achieve an inclusive society where everyone has the necessary information and communication technology resources, among others, to meet their full potential.
To that end, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies has recently briefed the Public Enterprises and Communication Committee of the National Council of Provinces on the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper. The White Paper captures government’s belief that information and communications technologies can facilitate the achievement of the objectives of the NDP. It also sets out how government plans to enable this process.
The White Paper is an all-encompassing document covering computing and information technology, telecommunications technology, the internet, as well as traditional means for communication such as the postal service. This policy will replace the White Papers on Telecommunications (1996) and Postal Services (1998).
Critically, the current White Paper is aimed at:
- Expanding internet access: Government sees ICTs as “the single most powerful tool we have to transform South Africa into a prosperous developed nation where poverty, inequality and unemployment are not an everyday reality”.
- Promoting a digital society: As more citizens gain access to the internet, government sees digital and mobile technologies as tools to “enable all citizens to engage with, create and access information and services from a range of sources anywhere and at any time”. Importantly, expanded internet access will enable the digitisation of the public service as well.
- Opening access to ICT infrastructure: Government aims to address supply-side constraints to building a digital society by increasing access to critical ICT infrastructure. In so doing, government wants to allow and enable effective competition; to increase network coverage and enable the deployment of broadband infrastructure and services across the country; to promote shared and equal access; and to foster innovation.
- Promoting ICT Industry growth: The White Paper sets out government’s vision of the ICT sector as “an important component of the national economy [that] is involved in almost every facet of the economy – from telecommunications to increasing productivity in manufacturing with robots, and more efficient computer hardware and software”. Government seeks to define the sector and its value chains; to stimulate demand for ICT service; and to align state interventions to attract foreign investment, promote skills development in the sector, and promote the role SMMEs in the sector. These steps are intended to promote research and development, and innovation and local manufacturing in the ICT sector.
- Creating a regulatory framework that supports technological convergence: The White Paper sets out government’s approach to the convergence of different technologies, such as broadcasting and telecommunications as seen through new innovations like video-on-demand services. This will necessitate revising electronic communications legislation, rethinking the issuing of telecommunications and broadcasting licences, and developing a single spectrum policy to cover all services using spectrum in South Africa.
For now, though, the White Paper remains a policy document and the proposals in it will therefore require legislation to implement.
One bill, the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill of 2018 (ECAB), was introduced in September 2018 with the aim of giving effect to matters such as the allocation of spectrum, the Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) and more. But, in the face of opposition, the bill was withdrawn by Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams in February 2019.
Given the centrality ICT to government’s plans, the process is likely to gain serious attention not only from the Executive, but from Parliament as well.
Watch this space.
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