ANC admits to botching tech roll-out

The ANC has admitted government’s failure to deliver information and communication technology (ICT) to the public. In a draft document, Accelerating [the] Digital Future, presented at a recent workshop, it blamed “policy incoherence, high staff turnover … [and] often competing institutions” for the failure.

It said “extending the [ICT] infrastructure to reach sparsely populated rural areas will require considerable investment and planning”. The private and public sectors must work together to make this a reality. 

The document, by the communications subcommittee on ICT, was produced before the meetings of the ANC’s national general council, set for June. It said according to the ANC’s target, there should be 100% broadband penetration by 2020.

Statistics South Africa’s 2013 survey showed that 10% of households had internet access and 40.9% had at least one member who used the internet at home or elsewhere.

The ANC’s subcommittee admitted government did not have capacity to improve ICT and implement policy. 

“Evaluating progress [is] constrained by the ANC’s capacity to sustain the effectiveness, continuity and capacitating of its communication structure,” the document said, bemoaning the failure of its members in government to implement policies, despite President Jacob Zuma having created a portfolio last year for ICT development – the department of telecommunications and postal services under Siyabonga Cwele. 

At its 2012 Mangaung conference, the ANC announced a policy to see the roll-out of “e-government services”, enabling people to interact with government departments online. This, the document said, had not happened fast enough.

The subcommittee said the procurement of infrastructure, hardware and other services seemed the biggest hindrance in rolling out an effective e-government, requiring the State Information Technology Agency’s role be redefined. It is struggling to deliver on its mandate because of corruption, maladministration and poor capacity.

Referring to the South African Post Office, the document said it should consider “incorporating express couriers, ICT, logistics operators and other providers into the postal sector’s delivery chain”. Also, “policy should introduce regulated competition in the postal market to ensure postal operators compete with each other in providing services efficiently and at acceptable levels of quality”. 

Dominic Cull, a telecommunications lawyer at Ellipsis Regulatory Solutions, said: “There has been a massive implementation gap from policy to laws and drafting and enforcement of regulations, which govern how the industry works.”

He cited the example of the government’s failure to implement the provisions of the Electronic Communications Act, allowing competition in electronic communications. “Local loop unbundling is a prime example. It is a pro-competitive process on the Telkom copper network to reduce the cost to communicate. Originally, it was announced in 2007 to be completed by 2011. Last week government said it will complete an approved local loop unbundling strategy by March 2017. In addition, critical inputs like spectrum and permissions to deploy networks have been withheld from the market.”

Cull said he agreed with the ANC’s appraisal of the ICT sector. “Policy, when coherent, has not been translated into practice. It is great that, for a change, government is blaming themselves; not the private sector.”

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