NDP gives hope for a competitive and dynamic ICT marketplace
Marian Shinn, Shadow Minister of Communications
16 August 2012
The final National Development Plan (NDP) incorporates more emphatic language about introducing a market-friendly environment and loosening government control in the communications sector. This is to be welcomed.
Whilst it pointed in the right direction, the draft NDP document released last November was criticised by the ICT sector, and in parliamentary discussions with the National Planning Commission team earlier this year, for not going far enough to recognise the pivotal role of communications in supporting economic growth.
The final plan recognises that for too long South Africa’s communication sector has been crippled by weaknesses in institutional arrangements, conflicting policies, regulatory failure and the incapacity of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa to facilitate a more open market.
The plan posits that Telkom should be broken up into two businesses: a wholesaler focusing on backhaul operations, and a retail telecoms business. It also moots a common carrier network and applying open-access policies to encourage sharing of the backbone fibre network “without discouraging private long-term investment”.
This view is in stark contrast to the emphatic ‘No’ that Communications Minister Dina Pule gave me in Parliament yesterday when I asked whether she would consider selling the government-owned communication network to a South African-led consortium – given government’s appalling track record in the ICT sector and the bad faith it had demonstrated with potential investors KT Corporation.
The NDP vision for the ICT sector also takes a different tack to the ANC policy document on the communications sector. The ANC document sees the role of government in the sector as primarily ensuring that ICT supports its service delivery mandate rather than freeing up the communications environment to facilitate competition in support of cost-competitive economic growth and encourage innovation of products and services.
If Cabinet adopts the NDP’s recommendation, without trying to manipulate the outcomes to protect its vested interests, South Africa may, for the first time, have a communications environment that supports economic growth.