SA’s ICT white paper ‘potentially dangerous’ - Telkom

2016-10-20 15:02 - Gareth van Zyl, Fin24
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Telkom. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

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Johannesburg - Phone network Telkom has cautiously welcomed the publishing of South Africa’s ICT policy white paper but warned that parts of it are “potentially dangerous”.

Last month, Cabinet approved South Africa’s new national ICT policy which seeks to establish a single public-private sector owned wireless open access network (WOAN).

The policy further seeks to provide high demand spectrum to this WOAN network and shift away from networks having exclusive rights over this resource. Government hopes the WOAN will allow a more level playing field and boost internet access across the country for all South Africans.

Opposition party the DA has already slammed the policy as “retrogressive” and said it risks killing MTN and Vodacom as these networks will have to surrender their spectrum rights.

MTN and Vodacom have yet to publicly comment on the policy white paper, but Telkom on Thursday aired its thoughts at a technology conference in Johannesburg.

“Our reaction to the white paper is that there is a lot of good in it,” said Telkom’s Chief Commercial Officer, Dr Brian Armstrong.

“Some of it is concerning and there some parts that are potentially dangerous. Our view is that one should regulate where it is necessary and this includes when there is market failure,” said Armstrong.

Speaking more broadly, Armstrong said that regulatory interventions should be geared toward improving the overall health and sustainability of the industry for the benefit of consumers.

‘Positives’ of policy

Telkom has further explained its stance on the white paper by addressing what it views to be positive and challenging aspects.

Telkom, in a statement, said that it views ‘positive’ policy proposals as including aspects such as evidence based regulatory interventions, a favourable technology mix that includes fixed and mobile, the possible regulation of over-the-top (OTT) services, open access networks and the restructuring of regulators.

The company further said it supports a WOAN as long as it boosts access in rural areas.

“The principles of such a Wholesale Open Access Network are not yet clearly defined,” said Armstrong.

“This includes how existing networks have access to it, who pays for what and who shares what. Issues of demarcation have not been clearly defined. The debate on this is just starting,” said Armstrong.

Problematic areas

But the policy white paper also poses risks to the industry, said Armstrong.

Top of the list among these risks is the return of assigned spectrum, according to Telkom.

“The fundamental problem is you have spent millions on the network and then have to return it. We need industry engagement on this issue,” Armstrong stated.

Telkom also said that while it supports the notion of an open internet or net neutrality, “indiscriminate and unfavourable net neutrality regulations could pose threats to the quality of service delivered to consumers, stifle innovation and may compromise the functionality of the Internet, which is inherently counterproductive”.

Telkom has also questioned government’s stance on open access, especially on the country’s fixed-line market.

“We are seeing very vibrant innovation and competition in the fibre market and imposing open access to layer one of the network may compromise this. It is unnecessary in a market that operates efficiently and will discourage investment towards the expansion, upgrade and continued maintenance of the fixed network,” said Telkom.

Overall, Telkom’s Armstrong said that engagement is key regarding government’s ICT policy white paper.

“It is important that we engage as an industry on these matters,” said Armstrong.

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