South Africa’s National Broadband Policy will be published for public consultation at the beginning of December, whether or not it has been approved by cabinet. Communications Minister Yunus Carrim made the promise to a workshop in Pretoria today, which was called to allow industry players to comment on the current draft.

Carrim said that he had been encouraged by colleagues to publish the draft as early as possible in order, even though he didn’t expect it to be perfect in its current state – rather, he said, he wanted to revisit the policy on an annual basis if necessary in order to ensure that it remained relevant.

Key issues which he said he believes need work include the areas of funding, and whether or not specific and ambitious targets should be set which could create problems if they are missed.

The purpose of the policy document is to ‘operationalise’ the vision for universal broadband access laid down in the National Development Plan. Some of the goals which are included in the current draft include:

  • 100% access for end users at5Mbps or more by 2020, with at least half the population on 10Mbps or more
  • Universal access for schools and health facilities at 10Mbps or more by 2015
  • Universal acces aat 100Mbps by 2030
  • Affordable access at less than 2.5% of average monthly income

Currently, only 13% of schools currently have broadband access, but speaking on behalf of South Africa Connect, the body charged with implementation of the plan under the policy document, Alison Gillwald said that the body is confident this is achievable.

Gillwald said that it’s important that the policy remains focussed on its underlying principles, which include net neutrality, open access networks and the promotion of e-government, transparency and open data.

The issue of an open access network and a reliance on Telkom to deliver the objectives of the Policy was the main points raised in almost all submissions received by the DOC about the draft, as well over a million lines are currently unused for ADSL, compared to the 800 000 that are. Gillwald argued that the powers to enforce open access to the Telkom network is already available to the regulator, ICASA, and a ‘non-discriminatory access regime’ is being proposed for the future.

Gillwald also suggested that the power to open up the Telkom network could go beyond Local Loop Unbundling, which allows other operators to place equipment in telephone exchanges and run services over the ‘last mile’ of copper wire direct to people’s houses. A National Broadband Network should be ‘open access at the lowest level’.

The draft is heavily critical of the current market for broadband access.

“The sector has been plagued by institutional failure in all agencies with delegated powers,” it reads.

At the heart of the document is a call for government and private sector to work together to create a fibre-based National Broadband Network (NBN) in the same public-private spirit as was adopted to the 2010 World Cup. Debates around the potential benefits of broadband are over, says the DOC’s Laurens Cloete, and implementing an national open-access wholesale network is a key strategy for the future.

Industry representatives, however, raised concerns that a the government is proposing a state operated ISP under the NBN – something that government denies. The Policy document does admit, however, that where municipalities have introduced city-wide networks already there have been problems with undermining private operators.

Criticisms were also raised that the Policy is ‘short on data’ and makes ambitious claims for the technology and business cases around opening up access to mobile operators’ networks as part of the NBN. These issues would be addressed during the next phase of delivery, the DOC said.

Many other submissions received so far complain that the lack of a solid regulatory framework around wireless spectrum, and specifically the analogue TV spectrum of 700-800Mhz, is holding back investment.

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar, Wired.co.uk, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.