The National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper South Africa 2016: Commentary on the internet

The recently published white paper focuses on convergence of modern and traditional modes of communication, which is a big step in connecting the present to the future of information and communications technologies (ICTs). The use of data in formulating policies and monitoring progress is also a great step towards an evidence-based policy that measures progress within set timelines. Furthermore, the policy acknowledges data gaps and, in particular, gender gaps in the use of and access to ICTs and the need to address this.

Universal access

While deliberate policy interventions for universal access to help achieve universal service have been provided for, the focus has been on densely populated areas where investments in infrastructure can serve the greatest number of people. This leaves the sparsely populated rural areas under-served as they are not attractive to investors due to the low return expected. To deal with this issue there is a need for deliberate measures that are tailored for such areas, like government subsidies and tax incentives offered to investors and public-private partnerships to finance infrastructure development in such areas to secure long-term investments. There is also a need for provision of unlicensed spectrum bands to local innovators to allow for innovations at lower costs. Additionally, there is a need for a coherent strategy with timelines on capacity development at all levels, from access to the actual use of internet.

Open internet

Focus has been shifted to net neutrality at the expense of a competitive technology marketplace which has played a great role in encouraging innovation and improving quality. There is a need for a balanced approach, as they are equally important in ensuring universal access and that quality is maintained.

Internet intermediary liability

The policy provides for a uniform approach to be adopted for internet intermediary liability. This is a restrictive approach, as one size doesn’t fit all, given the dynamic nature of intermediaries and the need to distinguish between actors in intermediary liability regimes.

Internet exchange points (IXPs)

The policy has provided for government measures to promote and facilitate the establishment of additional IXP’s in provinces currently not covered in South Africa and to facilitate peering, lower network operating costs and improved network performance, which is a great step towards improving interconnection locally.

There is a need for deliberate measures to establish and sustain a competitive market that improves local and regional interconnection. The sector regulator will be required to develop a regulatory framework to facilitate peering within two years. The policies need to create an enabling environment that provides for flexibility for interconnecting networks while removing artificial barriers. Furthermore, there is a need to promote a balance between the economic, business, technical and operational aspects of internet interconnection.

Address protocols

The policy failed to capture a strategic plan to facilitate capacity building on network security threats in order to encourage adoption of IPv6, which most South African operators have yet to embrace due to security concerns emerging from its public nature.

Emerging Issues and technologies

There is a need to focus on creating a competitive market environment for emerging technologies, including but not limited to synchronising the policy with the education system to encourage production of new technologies for use from an early age and measures to give competitive advantage in the market to locally produced goods, which has worked well for many economies, including Korea.

Internet governance

While the paper has adopted the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) principle for internet governance which is centred on consensus among stakeholders internationally on governance issues, it has failed to incorporate this by focusing on the regulator as the sole administrator nationally instead of adopting a governance model based on a public-private partnership to improve the internet and business landscape. There is also a need to establish policies that provide for clear dispute resolution mechanisms that are easily accessible and affordable.

 

Esther Kamande is a lawyer keen on designing practical policies that provide measurable sustainable growth to address issues arising at the intersection of law, technology and public interest. Follow Esther on Twitter .

 

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