Last month, Cabinet approved South Africa’s new national ICT policy which seeks to establish a single public-private sector owned wireless open access network (WOAN).
The policy further seeks to provide high demand spectrum to this WOAN network and shift away from networks having exclusive rights over this resource.
“South Africa’s government has no intention of running a mobile network in the country”, says Telecoms Minister Siyabonga Cwele.
Government hopes the WOAN will allow a more level playing field and boost internet access across the country for all South Africans.
But opposition party the DA has slammed the policy as “retrogressive” and said it risks killing MTN and Vodacom as these networks will have to surrender their spectrum rights.
Responding to criticism over the planned WOAN, Cwele told Fin24 on Thursday in a phone interview from Cape Town that government doesn’t plan to directly run the single network.
“Really, this government has got no intention to get involved in running networks,” Cwele told Fin24.
“It is the private sector which must sort itself and see how they work, how they create the shareholding,” he added.
Cwele further said the policy wants dominant networks MTN and Vodacom to “join hands and create” a network “on top of the current network that they’ve already built”.
“But they will allow others to enter…so that it’s non-discriminatory,” Cwele said.
After releasing the new ICT policy last month, Cwele told Fin24 that his office has started receiving feedback.
“The policy is quite new. We are still receiving feedback – others very positive, others expressing their concern,” Cwele told Fin24.
“That is what we are continuously trying to do – give them the feedback of what we mean and what is the intention.
“But the thing is that it is greatly welcomed because it will assist the growth of the industry,” he said.
The new ICT policy is expected to last for ten years and can also be adjusted throughout that period, Cwele’s office has previously told Fin24.
One of the next steps is to turn the policy into various laws but this process would be consultative as well, Cwele’s office previously said.
The launch of the policy has also come amid a legal battle between Cwele and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).
Pretoria’s North Gauteng High Court last month granted Cwele an interdict of Icasa’s planned spectrum auction, which was planned to take place early next year.
Cwele opposed the auction on grounds that government’s policy regarding spectrum, at that stage, had not yet been finalized and that the sale risks only benefiting big companies.