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CHAKULA Issue #20: Pushing for broadband policy in Africa

Pushing for broadband policy in Africa

CONTENTS

1. Broadband for Africa: Launching the cables, launching the campaigns… – e-interview with Willie Currie

2. NIGERIA: Striking when the time is right… – e-interviews with John Dada, Titi Omo-Ettu and Abi Jagun

3. GHANA: Moving the hand of God – e-interviews with Eric Osiakwan and Eva Lokko

4. SOUTH AFRICA: Autopsy of a missed opportunity – Ten things analysts say are absent in the South African broadband policy; and an e- interview with Steve Song

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Broadband for Africa: Launching the cables, launching the campaigns…

The rapid roll-out of fibre optic cables in Africa over the past years brought a wave of optimism to the continent – finally, the sentiment went, all those ambitious online business plans and project proposals that couldn’t be realised ten years go – simply because the internet was too slow – could be dusted off and see the light of day. The implications for fast connectivity for the continent – in education, in realising citizen and social rights, in entrepreneurial development, or just for plain gaming fun – suggested the realisation of something of a renaissance for Africa; a quantum leap into the 21st Century, as far as the internet was concerned.
But the boom in broadband – the landing and roll-out of cables such as the East African Submarine Cable System (known as EASSy), The East African Marine Systems (TEAMS), and SEACOM – was in many countries met with something of a vague and non-committal response from governments.
Some were, it seemed, trapped in a strategic uncertainty, much like the 1990s, when the implications of information and communications technology (ICT) policy on the continent were only just beginning to be grappled with. Few countries had developed coherent broadband
policies – if any policy at all – to manage the implications and potential of the new connectivity being dug into the ground before their eyes.
It was with this in mind that the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), together with its partners, set about mobilising stakeholders in South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana, to advocate for progressive broadband policies to be developed in those countries. The overall objectives of the project, which was funded by the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, was to achieve affordable universal broadband.
The advocacy initiative kicked off in South Africa in October 2008, with the launch of the South African Broadband Forum, a partnership between APC, South Africa Connect, SANGONeT(Southern African NGO Network), and the Shuttleworth Foundation.
The Forum’s interventions included a multi-stakeholder workshop, the drafting of a forward-looking framework for a broadband policy, and an online petition. A face-to-face meeting with the South African government was also held. In Nigeria, a similar multi-stakeholder approach was adopted, with an outside consultant team employed to draft a broadband policy document. This in turn was put open to vigorous public review, a process which included a strong media campaign. In Ghana a stakeholder’s forum held in August 2009 was attended by some 60 participants from across the public, private and civil society sector. This processes resulted in the formation of a broadband policy sub-committee, which was part of the newly formed ministerial advisory committee in that country.
The impact of the campaigns has been different in each country. In South Africa, a broadband policy gazetted earlier this year has been met with disbelief from some stakeholders. As the interviews in this Chakula show, campaigners in Nigeria are optimistic about a positive
outcome to their efforts. In Ghana, the response is less optimistic, even though the advocacy resulted in the formation of the policy sub-committee – a move which seemed to guarantee government buy-in.
With the project now having reached its conclusion, Chakula caught up with Willie Currie, APC’s Communications and Information Policy Programme Manager, to get his take on the success of the initiative…

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“Policy processes are not linear. They have peaks and troughs and can go round in circles…”

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CHAKULA: The broadband initiative in South Africa was the first to get off the ground with the launch of the South African National Broadband Forum. Then Ghana and Nigeria followed.Why broadband and why these countries in particular?

Willie Currie [WC]: The context for broadband revolved mainly around the question of what would happen when increased submarine cable capacity reached the east and west coasts of Africa. Were African counties ready for taking advantage of the reduction in costs of
international bandwidth to reduce the broadband gap inside their countries? Research at the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] indicated that countries that adopted broadband strategies increased their levels of broadband penetration while countries like the US and Britain who did not adopt broadband strategies did not. Research from the World Bank indicated that increasing broadband penetration by 10% increased GDP in both developed and developing countries. One of Obama’s tech policies was to have the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] develop a national broadband plan as well as to include broadband as part of his stimulus package. And Britain was going through its Digital Britain process. In South Africa and Ghana there were elections and new ministries and the hope was that they would be willing to support national broadband strategies. Nigeria had a very effective coms regulator and was about to receive additional submarine cables, so it also seemed to be a good opportunity to promote a national broadband strategy. In addition, the project was funded by the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa who was also keen to see progress towards affordable broadband in these countries.

CHAKULA: The policy vacuum around broadband in Africa is striking. I suppose there are many sectors where a policy lag exists – energy springs to mind. But why do you think African countries tend to be ‘late adopters’ when it comes to ICT policy? The growth in the ICT
sector has hardly been a surprise – and it’s no longer the early 1990s when many were still trying to get to grips with new technologies from a policy perspective.

WC: Good question. African countries work closely with the ITU [International Telecommunication Union] and its regulators do attend the ITU’s Global Regulators Symposium. ITU has put broadband on the agenda in its events and publications and has organised a Broadband Commission which is to make a policy recommendation on broadband to the UN this month. Governments have certainly been active on policy on the east coast – Kenya, Rwanda, but not so much elsewhere. But one still hopes for more dynamic policy initiatives.

CHAKULA: The three campaigns are at different points right now – Nigeria has developed a draft strategy; the process in Ghana seems to have stalled; and in South Africa, there is a sense of the ineffectiveness of the campaign, despite the good work of the people involved. How successful do you think these campaigns have been?

WC: Policy processes are not linear. They have peaks and troughs and can go round in circles. What has happened has been some degree of engagement between civil society and governments in the three countries, some awareness raising of the issues and attempts to
persuade governments to take action. Perhaps as the cables continue to land we may start to see a more coherent approach emerging from governments.

CHAKULA: What have been your key learning experiences across the three countries when it comes to these sorts of advocacy drives? If anything, what has been missing?

WC: What is difficult is to sustain advocacy processes over long periods of time, especially when immediate results are not forthcoming. The funding cycles that civil society organisations draw on run over two years at the most and if results are not achieved quickly campaigns can stall. On the other side, governments have their own ways of undertaking policy and these do not always align with those of business or civil society. It is important for the civil society policy entrepreneurs involved to be able to sustain their activities during peaks and troughs so that they are ready when conditions change and policy windows open up to engage with policy- makers.

CHAKULA: What are the next steps from your perspective? Do you anticipate another advocacy push in, say, Ghana and Nigeria to bring those processes to fruition?

WC: The next steps are really up to the policy entrepreneurs in Ghana and Nigeria to keep the broadband initiatives going if they can.

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NIGERIA: Striking when the time is right…

The broadband campaign in Nigeria kicked off in early 2010 with the formation of a multi-stakeholder team to drive the initiative. The strategy in that country had several components, including commissioning the drafting of a broadband policy, hosting a Nigeria National Broadband Forum, and implementing a media strategy.
Fittingly, the media strategy included a strong online presence to stimulate awareness and discussion of the broadband strategy and to monitor the progress of the campaign.
Chakula spoke to the campaign’s leader, John Dada, Titi Omo-Ettu, who is president of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria and also a co-ordinator of the campaign, and Abi Jagun, who represented SMarT Research in the policy development process.

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“[M]edia-savvy individuals and members who know the history of the Nigeria telecom inside out were on the team…”

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CHAKULA: You were tasked to set up a broadband forum in Nigeria, with the view of developing a national broadband strategy for the country. With such rapid take up of ICTs in Nigeria, how is it possible that the country didn’t have a framework for broadband development?

JOHN DADA [JD]:* Nigeria is awash with brilliant attempts at ensuring ICTs are available for national development. However the uncertain political climes have been a major deterrent to continuity and focus. The nation already had a draft ICT4D policy, which was developed after
the original IT Policy, but it is still waiting legislative approval. This draft policy is a precursor of the work done on the broadband framework.

CHAKULA: Tell me a bit about the process of setting up the forum – how did you go about it, who was involved, and what did you hope to achieve?

JD: A core group of volunteer individuals and organisations from civil society, the private sector and academia was identified to initiate discussions on issues related to a broadband strategy, including infrastructure, content, e-governance/e-citizenship and education.

CHAKULA: You then contracted Society Markets & Technology (SMarT)Research to develop a draft broadband strategy. How was this strategy received by stakeholders?

JD: SMarT Research were commissioned to conduct policy research and produce the draft broadband framework and background documents. After a consultation process, the final version of both documents were prepared and submitted on 18 May, 2010. These were published and widely circulated for inputs in both print and electronic formats in- advance of, and during a stakeholders forum. Drafts of the documents were made available to the public through mailing lists, presentations and interactions at various stakeholder meetings, workshops and
conferences. A BB4NG [Broadband for Nigeria] Stakeholders’ Forum was held on 28 July at the National Commission for Colleges of Education(NCCE) in Abuja. Chaired by a private sector delegate, over one hundred delegates participated in the event and each had a copy of the printed documents. Delegates were from government ministries and institutions; private sector and telecoms industry; civil society groups; the media; the political sector; the military and intelligence community; young adults from the National Youths Service Corps; the
academia and the general public. The framework document was considered acceptable, as the issues brought up and discussed by delegates had to do with implementation of the framework. Accordingly, all but three of the delegates in the attendance register also signed their endorsement of the framework during the Stakeholders’ Forum, and both the senior special assistant to the minister of information and communications as well as the chairman of National Information Technology Development(NITDA) regarded the framework as presented to government.

CHAKULA: There were a number of strands to your strategy, which attracted a good deal of media coverage. What do you think were the most successful learning experiences, and why do you think they were successful?

JD: Composition of the core team of volunteers for developing the strategy was critical; media-savvy individuals and members who know the history of the Nigeria telecom inside out were on the team. They were able to mobilise their formidable network for effective coverage
and follow up activities. For example a key member of the BB4NG campaign, Titi Omo-Ettu, is also the president of the high profile Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON). ATCON, is already part of a team that includes the Nigeria telcom regulator that will attend the October ITWeb Broadband 2010 summit in South Africa

CHAKULA: Where is the process now, and what are the next steps?

JD: Sustained post-forum campaigns are on-going and being monitored. It is delightful that a framework already has a solid “leg in” with the present government, as the objectives are already featuring in speeches delivered by the minister of information and communications.
However, the impending commencement of political campaigns and changes of government and functionaries at all levels of governance suggest a strategic delay or toning down of the formal presentation of the framework to government. The Nigeria campaign therefore has to be sustained for a period that will span the inauguration of the next government in May 2011. This is an advantage as the new government is more likely to own a policy presented to it than inherited, especially from the tail-end of a previous one, and will also have the time to commence implementation of the framework.

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“[T]he campaign is coming at this time, which is its time.”

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CHAKULA: You are the president of ATCON, and also a member of the broadband forum. First of all, can you tell me more about the Association – what is its role, and does it have a strong membership?

TITI OMO-ETTU [TO]: ATCON is the umbrella Association of all Telecommunication Companies in Nigeria. It recognises seven subgroups as well as autonomous subgroup associations such as Association of Licensed Telecom Operators (ALTON), the Internet Service Providers Association(ISPAN) and others. It interfaces with the industry regulator and also with government to protect the interest of its members and also of the entire industry. It is a powerful input provider into policies of the federal government of Nigeria on communication matters. The government hired the association’s president in 2000 to serve as the chief executive of the Nigerian Communication Commission for two terms, which ended a few months ago.
Another active member of the Association was recently hired to succeed him. The Association is taking a team of its members and other industry players and entrepreneurs to explore trade relationships with world class players in Johannesburg in a fortnight, there about. It
asked for and got the approval of the regulator to lead the trade team for strategic reasons.

CHAKULA: What got you interested in the broadband campaign?

TO: I am an engineer and I built a career in the telcom industry working for Nigeria’s expired monopoly incumbent in the days of monopoly. I have followed the growth and development of Nigeria’s telecommunications since 1987 while I was in the public service and
when we first mooted the liberalisation agenda. I opted out of service in 1991 int retirement to pursue a career in telecommunication consultancy and also to play in the political development of the industry. I have done so continuously from then and it is only natural that the broadband campaign is coming at this time, which is its time.

CHAKULA: Why do you think Nigeria lacked a broadband strategy?

TO: To the extent that something has to start one day, ubiquitous broadband presence is not an old subject anywhere and I would rather see it as current need and not one of previous lack.

CHAKULA: What does the Association’s membership make of the campaign? Are they generally supportive?

TO: Yes, they are.

CHAKULA: There have been suggestions that in Nigeria, perhaps more than in other countries, in order to bring about policy change you have to prove the business model – appeal to the economics of it – rather than appeal, to say, bridging the digital divide, or providing
services to the poor. Is this perception correct?

TO: This is true. I am an apostle of that philosophy which actually derived from our experiences that we have to situate the fortune of our development in the private-sector focused economy. This needs to be done to amass the kind of seriousness that enables us to meet our social needs using business models for productivity. The other models are unsuitable for our circumstances and ditto for a few other strategies.

CHAKULA: Where to now with the campaign, in your view?

TO: One way. Up! We are influencing government to open up the industry further. We did just that in the past decade, but now by stimulating SME initiatives to transport traffic and to enhance universal reach in such manners that promise ubiquity of broadband and strategic lowering of the cost of access and services. Government has been responding better and our efforts are counting. For our association and its members, the first is advocacy, then education, then constructive requests for government intervention to reduce stress as we march on. The march is unstoppable.

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“[T]he dominant paradigm regarding [ICT development] dictates that [the government’s] involvement be minimal.”

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CHAKULA: You were asked by Nigerian National Broadband Forum to develop a draft broadband strategy for Nigeria. I have posed this question to the forum – but it intrigues me that many African countries with burgeoning ICT environments, have not yet taken the initiative to develop policy frameworks to guide the development of the ICT sector – which they nevertheless concede is critical to the country’s development. How do you account for the policy lag in Africa around ICTs?

ABI JAGUN [AJ]: I wish I had concrete evidence for what I am about to say rather than gut feel or unsubstantiated opinion, but I really do think that whilst some countries do more to integrate developments in ICTs into their national development strategies, and indeed practical/concrete examples exist of this, other countries merely “talk the talk”. I think there are various reasons for this, but a key one links to the perception that technology is a “black box” (for want of a better phrase). It boils down to the way technological innovation is packaged to developing countries and is linked to an out-dated(?)perspective of the way in which developing countries are expected to acquire technology. Technology is not something that developing countries “develop”; rather it is “transferred” to them, and as such there is little expectation that governments/the recipient nation should be too involved in the “technicalities” nor in innovation.
Given an acceptance of this, it is not surprising that not much by way of developing the ICT sector features in meaningful/practical ways in the national priorities. Reinforcing this is the success with which the theory of liberalisation has influenced development interventions. A competitive private sector can deliver the promises of technology and governments need only react to their needs – articulated either by the sector itself or agencies that directly of indirectly represent their needs. Also influential are the very expansive and effective
‘advertising’ that has been done by private sector communications operators looking for new markets and who, on the one hand, are looking for favourable investment/trade conditions in developing and emerging countries and on the other see the opportunity to score corporate social responsibility points/quick-wins with their customers/public in more industrialised countries. In summary, we do not see more government involvement in the way/manner in which ICT development occurs in (most) African countries because the dominant paradigm regarding such developments dictates that their involvement be minimal.

CHAKULA: The draft framework suggests that the broadband strategy should aim to bring “broadband, with speed of at least 4Mbps, that is accessible, affordable and dependable to citizens and consumers in Nigeria.” How do you define issues of accessibility and affordability?

AJ: Accessibility and affordability are defined in practical terms and much the same way as would be defined with respect to other (tele)communications products/services. A large proportion of the population (if not all members of the public that wish to access the
product/service) should be able to access the product/service conveniently and at a price that is commensurate with the income of the majority of the population.

CHAKULA: Amongst the objectives, you talk about the use of broadband for economic activities, because of the entrepreneurial nature of the population. In your experience, is broadband more about making money in Nigeria than elsewhere on the continent? In other countries, such as South Africa, an advocacy campaign might make more of bridging the digital divide, and serving underserved communities. In Nigeria, how do you see the balance between business and development, as the spark for an advocacy campaign – what gets you more leverage if you want to bring about change?

AJ: There was intense discussion with respect to this in developing the broadband strategy. Whilst I cannot speak for other African countries, the truth is that the main driver of broadband deployment/diffusion in Nigeria will be businesses. When businesses believe that
they will be able to make money in rolling out broadband and when businesses believe that they will make money by adopting it we will see infrastructure being built and applications and/or content being developed. Personal use of broadband and its spread to underserved
areas and/or mariginalised groups will come about/increase as a result of this. There is therefore a need to acknowledge and create the space for the business aspect of broadband in order to attain more public- interest oriented objectives.

Key links:

Draft policy documents: www.forum.org.ng/BB4NG

Essentials of the media strategy is summarized at http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0AUg1mzUdzt_SZGZ6anRqaDJfMjY5ZnNwcTJnZ2...

Stakeholder mapping is summarized at http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0AS4Cn2nENwLzZGZkMmtrMmJfMmZ0OG05d2Zi&h...
Results of the media campaign:

“Nigerians demand broadband access from FG,” Available at http://compassnewspaper.com/NG/index.php?option=com_content&view=article...

“Nigeria: New Broadband Capacity Underway, Says FG,” Available at http://allafrica.com/stories/201008100128.html

“Stakeholders to dialogue on broadband for Nigerians,” Available at http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/6361408-stakeholders-to-dialog...

“Broadband for Nigeria holds in Abuja,” Available at http://www.vanguardngr.com/2010/07/20/broadband-for-nigeria-holds-in-abuja/

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GHANA: Moving the hand of God

The campaign in Ghana was launched in August 2009 with a stakeholder workshop in Dodowa. One of the key purposes of the campaign was to push for “immediate steps” to lower the cost of bandwidth in Ghana – the vehicle to do this would be the development of a national broadband strategy in consultation with stakeholders.
Chakula spoke to Eric Osiakwan from Internet Research, who was tasked to lead the campaign, and Eva Lokko from Ghana Information Network for Knowledge Sharing.

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“Unfortunately the political elite has higher priorities…”

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CHAKULA: The goal of your broadband campaign was to push for lower bandwidth cost. Why are broadband prices so high in Ghana?

Eric Osiakwan [EO]: The business model of operators nurtured by the environment is a “high margin, low volume” one, but our effort is to move them towards a “low margin, high volume” approach which is fundamentally responsible for the mobile revolution we have experienced on the continent.

CHAKULA: It seems strange to me that governments in this day and age don’t recognise the need for policy and strategy frameworks when it comes to ICTs. Why does this broadband strategy vacuum exist in Ghana?

EO: There is an existing ICT for Accelerated Development Policy which calls for a Broadband Strategy, hence our effort. But unfortunately the political elite has higher priorities even when the sub-committee was set-up to advance the cause.

CHAKULA: You intervention began in 2009 with a multi-stakeholder workshop in August of that year. It looks like government and business were very responsive to your aims?

EO: Very. Our process was to gather the relevant stakeholders, and at the level of the vice president we had buy-in. But when the button was handed over to government to take leadership on the development of the strategy, which is within their remit, other competing priorities took over.

CHAKULA: You have now been asked to serve on a newly-formed Broadband Policy Sub-committee of the Ministerial Advisory Committee. The task of the sub-committee has been to develop the broadband strategy. But I understand this has also been a frustrating process – where does
everything stand right now? And what are your next steps?

EO: Various members of the committee were tasked to write various elements of the policy input paper, but it is yet to be integrated, polished and tabled for a multi-stakeholder submission and input.

CHAKULA: What are your learning experiences from this intervention, in terms of making policy interventions of this sort work?

EO: We have learned that you can only move the “hand of God” that much…….maybe it would move at its own time and pace.

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“Stakeholders from all sides get to the practical acceptance of the fact that they need each other to survive…”

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CHAKULA: You were one of the conveners of the broadband strategy in Ghana, representing the Ghana Information Network and Knowledge Sharing (GINKS). First of all, tell me a bit about GINKS?

EVA LOKKO [EL]: GINKS provides the platform for individuals and institutions to share experiences, best practices, lessons learnt as well as common ground for networking and dialogue with each other in order to harness all aspects of ICT for the development of Ghana. GINKS brings together institutions including government, CSOs, ICT infrastructure/service providers and users.

CHAKULA: Why did the broadband initiative interest you?

EL: I believe that the internet has become a “human right” in this era of knowledge economy. Consequently broadband is the blood that carries all the knowledge and information through the physical and virtual pipes to us. It will therefore be a disaster if Ghana does not put in place the necessary strategy to ensure standards, availability, affordability, reliability and sustainability of broadband services and support to facilitate ICT4D for all Ghanaians. I could therefore not stay out of such an important ICT initiative. A broadband
strategy will:

  • Promote competition between and within communication service providers
  • Promote the provision of reliable and high-quality electronic services and content at affordable prices
  • Stimulate individual and business demand for broadband services to ensure viability of ICT businesses
  • Expand infrastructure, services and support to areas that do not yet have access.

CHAKULA: Why do you think Ghana lacked a broadband strategy up until this point?

EL: Unfortunately, strategies and policies seem to always lag behind implementation where ICT is concerned. I think the lack of a broadband strategy for Ghana was primarily due to the difficulty of accepting that ICTs cut across all sectors (education, health, agriculture, business, etc.) and that implementing ICT solutions across board would solve faster (and in some cases solve better) some of the same problems that we are aiming to solve with “brick-and-mortar”. The perception was that after we have solved the difficult problems in health, education etc. then we can look at ICTs. There was also the perception that ICTs are solely for ICT professionals and enthusiasts and therefore issues pertaining to ICTs were always reserved for last.
The impact of broadband as a key economic indicator had also not been appreciated fully until now.

CHAKULA: In your view, has the strategy been successful?

EL: I think it has, even though not to the extent and at the speed that one would have wished. It was successful because stakeholders found it challenging and important enough to send high-powered delegates and decision-makers to the forum (government, users, providers, public, CSOs, etc.). The strategy forum sparked off a lot of interest from all quarters via the internet when it was going on and was taken up by parliament, the National Communications Authority and the ministry of communications (all of them participants) after it concluded. A committee has also been set up to review it for adoption.
It will however be fully successful if implemented in good time after the review.

CHAKULA: What has been your learning experience in engaging in this kind of strategy initiative?

EL: Such initiatives are always very challenging experiences fraught with the usual tug-of-war on almost all suggestions made on the floor. The most important thing, though, is that there is always consensus at the end of such initiatives, since stakeholders from all sides get to the practical acceptance of the fact that they need each other to survive. You also learn new things and get a better picture of what is actually on the ground, what has been planned and where the gaps are.
It always brings you back to the reality that there is always the need for a champion to ensure the move from a strategy to review and adoption, and finally to implementation.

Key links:

ICT for Accelerated Development Policy in Ghana: http://www.ict.gov.gh/

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SOUTH AFRICA: Autopsy of a missed opportunity

What got left out…

Ten things analysts say the South African broadband policy, gazetted earlier this year, does not do:

1. State the problem/challenge/opportunity which requires a policy intervention, and relate this to wider national policy objectives.

2. Establish the present position in relation to that problem (through e.g. statistical summary, technological and market analysis, research into user behaviour).

3. Consider international and national trends relevant to the policy area concerned.

4. Establish objectives for national broadband policy.

5. Set out alternative approaches which could be taken by government(and other actors), and consider the pros and cons of these different alternatives in light of objectives and resources.

6. In a consultation process, identify choices and questions which need to be addressed and on which opinion is consulted (but may indicate an initial policy preference)

7. In a final policy document, choose a particular policy approach and give reasons why this particular approach has been chosen.

8. Address questions of resourcing, including both finance and human resources.

9. Identify and consider other policy areas, outside the policy area in question, in which action or interventions are required (e.g. In supply-side areas such as capacity-building, in demand-side areas such as enabling legislation for e-commerce).

10. Establish a plan of action with clear goals, allocation of responsibilities and timetable.

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Criticism of South Africa’s broadband policy has been hard-hitting. Stakeholders – including activists, policy advisors and academics – have called it a “lost opportunity”, an “aspirational document with no clear plan of action”, unambitious, and the result of a government consultative process that was not sincere. Analysts have pointed out that there are few differences between the draft document published in 2009 – which was roundly criticised – and the final policy document which was gazetted.

In a response to the draft policy document released by the department, Alison Gillwald, executive director of Research ICT Africa, pointed to the lack of clarity in the “roles of the state, state- owned entities, authorities and private sector in broadband infrastructure
development”. These included the roles of the state broadband company Infraco, the Department of Public Enterprises, which is the sole shareholder of Infraco, and the Department of Communications, which has been “responsible for the to-date weak ‘managed liberalisation’
policy of the last decade”.
“Critical issues of the co-ordination of rights of way and of complementary spectrum usage, which have plagued the roll-out of new entrants, are not raised,” she wrote, adding that the strategy lacked the vision seen in Britain, Australia, Mauritius and the US. In particular, the draft policy lacked insight into the crucial role of broadband in economic growth and job creation.

Many have now warned that South Africa is likely to fall even further behind other African countries in its economic development because of a lack of strategic insight into the transformative power of communications technologies.

Chakula spoke to the Shuttleworth Foundation’s Steve Song to get his sense of what can be salvaged from the aftermath…

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“[N]o one within government gets it or is prepared to stand up and fight for it.”

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CHAKULA: When we last spoke there was a sense of a policy window opening – an opportunity for policy influence given the change in government. It was in this moment that the South African National Broadband Forum (SANBF) launched its campaign for a progressive broadband strategy in this country. But the final policy as it emerged appears to lack substance, despite the efforts of many. What do you think are the key failings of the policy?

STEVE SONG [SS]: I think the key failings of the policy are:

a) To have set broadband penetration goals that are so weak as to be comparatively meaningless (15% broadband penetration – 256kbps – by 2019 for example).

b) To have no resources linked to the policy. Without strong backing from economic planning, this policy is unlikely to attract the investment it needs to be meaningful.

CHAKULA: The campaign was proactive, and, probably with limited resources, had a number of components – a workshop, a media drive (you yourself were interviewed on radio), a meeting with the Department of Communications, and a written response to the first draft of the broadband policy. Would you do anything differently if you had to launch a campaign like this again?

SS: From a public perspective, I would simplify the message. We asked people to support a framework which was a set of recommendations for government policy. As a public campaign, we should have just focused on the targets, namely:

By 2014, South Africa will:

* Have broadband access in every town and village; * Have the cheapest broadband access on the continent; and, * Be number one in terms of broadband penetration on the continent.

We should have just hammered those targets into the public consciousness so that even politicians would have those targets on their mind. Secondly, I would have focused on finding a point of leverage within the economic planning centres of power. As mentioned above, a broadband policy without some strong budget commitment is unlikely to have much impact.

CHAKULA: What is your sense of the South African policy environment – do you think there is real willingness to engage with stakeholders on the government’s side; or do you think that much is made of this engagement, yet when it comes to the crunch, government goes its own way? Sometimes there is a feeling that when stakeholders are ready, government isn’t really on the same page, so efforts at advocacy can come to very little. Has this process left you disempowered, as stakeholders working outside of government?

SS: There is no real champion within the South African government for broadband as an accelerator of social and economic development. My learning from this process is that no one within government gets it or is prepared to stand up and fight for it. We took a calculated risk that the South African election was a point of malleability in terms of policy and that politicians might seize on affordable broadband as policy issue. Strategically this was the right thing to do but tactically we failed to find the right points of engagement within the
government. I don’t feel disempowered by the process. It was a learning experience.

CHAKULA: An assessment of the gazetted broadband policy document and the process is now underway. Are there still avenues open for policy advocacy around broadband? Where to now?

SS: The problem of affordable access to broadband is not going to go away. Other countries are expanding their broadband infrastructure at an accelerated rate and the impact of this is showing itself in economic growth, in education, in nearly every aspect of life. Sooner or later it will dawn on someone in the South African government that we have been shooting ourselves in the telecommunications foot for nearly 10 years and it is damaging South Africa’s prospects of being a competitive player in the global knowledge economy. Our job is to see bring that dawn about as quickly as possible.

Key campaign links:

Website for the online campaign: http://www.broadband4africa.org.za/

Participants’ comments on the strategy framework: http://www.apc.org/en/system/files/Broadband+strategy+framework_compiled...

Willie Currie’s blog on the campaign: http://www.southafricaconnect.org.za/

Broadband Forum’s workshop on video: http://www.southafricaconnect.org.za/?p=265

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CHAKULA is a newsletter produced by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC). It aims to mobilise African civil society around ICT policy for sustainable development and social justice issues.
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