SA open access broadband not so open

2015-06-23 08:58 - Duncan Alfreds
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Broadband internet. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)


Cape Town - The principle of open access for broadband networks is often difficult to implement in practice despite government policy, according to an industry expert.

Any service provider can sell internet offerings over a single open access network. This means that the owner of an open access network acts as a 'landlord' that rents out the broadband infrastructure to service providers.

But the concept is facing challenges in South Africa, says an expert.

"We are facing significant challenges when asking to use such infrastructure at a local level, although we are protected by the licence and the Communication Act," Kalin Bogatzevski, CEO of fibre broadband company 123Net told Fin24.

The company is in the process of rolling out fibre to the home (FTTH) broadband services where subscribers pay R3 600 once off for internet access.

But unlike high-scale internet connectivity networks such as the Seacom submarine cable, FTTH services face challenges of connecting individual homes and businesses with the network backbone.

"We believe that open access should be granted to each licensed ISP (internet service provider) or operator, in order to allow use of the existing infrastructure which includes any utility conduits, pipes, ducts, sewers; poles," said Bogatzevski.

Government strategy

"The major network owners have large amounts of capital to invest in their networks and see this as part of their competitive advantage and are reluctant to deploy a network which will increase competition to its own retail services if it is open access," said Niel Schoeman, CEO Vumatel which is also rolling out FTTH services.

Schoeman expressed some cynicism that the open access principle would be applied in practice.

"We have seen some announcements on open access being offered to service providers by other smaller networks and Telkom, but whether all the major network owners will follow suit only time will tell."

Watch Siyabonga Cwele discuss whether policy will meet implementation challenges in this exclusive News24 Live video:

Open access is a key principle as the government eyes a self-imposed 2020 deadline for universal internet access in SA.

"The crux of it is whether were going to have open access networks. To us, that's the most critical thing which will enable efficient deployment of ICT and the use of our infrastructure," Telecommunications and Postal Services Minster Dr Siyabonga Cwele recently told a parliamentary portfolio committee.

Cwele indicated that Telkom would be the most likely company to form part of the government's strategy to roll out broadband, doubling down on sentiments expressed by President Jacob Zuma in his chaotic State of the Nation speech.

"In terms of the scale of technical capacity, I don't think there's any company that has that scale in terms of technical capacity like Telkom."

Private sector

However, the minister insisted that the private sector had a role to play in delivering internet services to all South Africans.

"We are going to work with the private sector - let's be clear on that - we've got no hostility toward the private sector, they are our partner in delivery.

"But this private sector needs the infrastructure we are talking about. CSIR has said there's a market failure here: These things are not everywhere," said Cwele.

Practical challenges include management of connections that facilitate broadband services as well municipalities and member of the public who do not want to see roads being dug up repeatedly for different providers.

123Net and others are actively marketing FTTH services that are mainly focused on to higher income neighbourhoods where there is a strong business case for services.

To lobby for inclusion in the broadband roll-out, residents have to register on the website.

Vumatel is currently rolling out services in the Johannesburg northern and central suburbs as well on the Cape Town Atlantic seaboard, Bishop's Court and Newlands further south.

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Read more about: siyabonga cwele  |  broadband  |  internet

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