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Within the overall drive to accelerate economic growth and social development, the ANC National General Council, held in September 2010, commenced a process towards a comprehensive national ICT plan.
For the first time, the ANC decided to take a lead in shaping a new social and economic trajectory underpinned by rapid deployment and utilisation of information and communications technologies (ICT) to address the scourge of poverty and underdevelopment afflicting the urban and rural poor.
This intervention by the ANC takes place against the backdrop of worldwide efforts to bridge the digital and knowledge divide between and within countries. Within days after the ANC General Council, nations of the world gathered in Mexico, for the 10th plenipotentiary conference of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a UN specialised agency, to discuss the future of telecommunications, broadcasting, Internet and other related sectors (collectively known as information and communications technologies, or ICTs).
ICT, as a new typology, seeks to explain the convergence of telecommunications, broadcasting and content services that are delivered by single technologies, as a result of the Internet. Because of convergence, a telephone line that traditionally carried voice communications, can be used to transmit huge chunks of data and video messages. Similarly, a computer can be used to make voice telephone calls and as a television set.
Like the recent ANC general council, the ITU plenipotentiary acknowledged the significant role of ICTs in facilitating social and economic development especially in the developing world whose majority of citizens remain outside the information loop. As part of these efforts, South Africa supported a resolution on the need for the global Internet governance, including public policy issues, to be placed in a multi-lateral platform as opposed to the current control of the Internet by the US based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
The significance of the Internet cannot be under-estimated given its current position as the driver of convergence and innovation; global economic transactions and social networking, thus bridging the distance between people across the globe. More than anything else, the Internet has emerged as a major driver of globalisation such that it cannot continue to be managed by a single country under its laws, outside the realm of International law and oversight.
Internet governance has serious implications for the sovereignty of nation states, as well as in efforts to combat cyber-threat, cybercrime and terrorist acts being perpetrated through highly inter-linked global computer networks. While historically the Internet was started as part of the US military adventurism, in the 1960s, today it has become a global critical resource that should be placed at the disposal of all humanity, through their sovereign states.
It was in an attempt to bridge the digital divide between and within countries that the Broadband Commission headed by President Paul Kagame published its report urging nations of the world to undertake drastic steps to increase digital inclusivity. In light of the immense human development opportunities brought by the Internet (and ICTs in general) the Broadband Commission submitted that countries should adopt broadband technologies that enable the delivery of a range of services, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
By broadband we refer to high speed Internet networks that allow, for example, downloading documents on the ANC website in about 20 seconds or even less depending on the capacity and speed. This differs with the download of documents on the same site using traditional dial-up which may take over 100 seconds.
Broadband allows the utilisation of the Internet for a range of online transactions such as banking using the Internet. Broadband Internet networks also facilitate universal access to health and education to communities located away from public utilities. In communications, broadband makes it possible for consumers to watch television online, while the postal sector has started to use the Internet to deliver mail to far-flung distances. Instead of trucks driving overnight to deliver small parcels, broadband is used to send postal mail which are printed at the last point of delivery, cutting huge transport costs and therefore the tariffs that are charged to consumers.
Most recently, in our country, the ANC took advantage of the Internet (largely broadband) to communicate with its members and supporters through Facebook, altering the balance in the skewed communications environment ahead of the 2009 elections. In future, broadband will play a significant role in combating climate change as well as in response to natural disasters such as flooding.
The table below indicate different broadband download speeds and respective capacities. Each country has a responsibility to define the meaning of broadband in terms of its preferred download speed and capability as indicated below. This is important to ensure that the quality of services provided is not left to industry players, but allows policy makers and regulators to pre-determine the type of services that industry provide to citizens.
Download: 56kbps 256kbps 2Mbps 40mbps
Simple webpage 23 seconds 5 seconds 0.64 seconds 0.03 seconds
ITU home page ( more or less same as ANC home page) 107 seconds 23 seconds 3 seconds 0.15 seconds
5 Mhz music track 12 minutes 3 minutes 20 seconds 1 seconds
20MHz video clip 48 minutes 10 minutes 1 minute 4 seconds
CD/low quality movie 28 hours 6 hours 47 minutes 2 minutes
DVD/high quality movie 1 week 1.5 days 4.5 hours 13 minutes* Source: ITU (As reproduced by the Broadband Commission Report)
In terms of this table, a country that defines broadband in terms of 56 kilo bytes per second will take close to two minutes to download documents on the ANC website. It will also take 12 minutes to download a music track, 48 minutes to download a video clip and 1 week to download high quality movie. 256kilo bytes per second will improve the download speed as indicated in the table. From 2 mega bytes per second upward, it will take a single click to access documents from the ANC website.
The NGC commenced a policy process to develop a National ICT Plan to position South Africa as a model user of the ICTs. This will require as much participation of all stakeholders in the ICT sector and in society broadly. Preliminary work done on the national ICT plan will culminate in discussions at the National policy conference and the possible adoption of a final framework by the National Conference in 2012.
There is currently a range of options for providing internet connection and these include connection via satellite, fixed (landline) and mobile or wireless connection. In South Africa, the Internet is provided via landline telephone connections provided by Telkom SA or Neotel as traditional fixed line operators. Mobile cellular services use wireless networks that allow citizens to access the Internet wherever they are, including through roaming while travelling to other countries. There is currently no entity providing access to broadband using satellite technologies, possibly due to high costs associated with satellite transmissions particularly satellite infrastructure.
Notwithstanding these technologies, broadband access, in SA, remains very low at around 04% of the population, and it does not seem that realistic that we will reach at least 50% by 2015 when countries review the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Universal access to ICTs, especially broadband is one of the promises of the MDGs. Not unless drastic policy and regulatory decisions are introduced, we are not likely to see significant changes by that review period.
Beside the definition of broadband in terms of the download speed and capacity, and decisions on the nation-wide coverage targets to be achieved over 5 to 10 years are needed.
Consistent with the national targets to be articulated in policy, a decision to prioritise high capacity spectrum for wireless communications in rural and urban poor areas will be needed. National policy should thus prioritise scarce high capacity bands to achieve rural connectivity within a reasonable, short space of time. A long-term perspective is needed to ensure the sustainability of these rural ventures such that they don?t disappear into thin air like previously licensed under-serviced area licensees (USALs).
Established players, on the other hand, should be incentivised to re-farm or use the current spectrum they use for voices services to provide broadband. Initiatives towards this direction are under-way in some parts of the country, and can only be given more impetus by national policy.
Consistent with this approach, national policy and law should also provide lower or asymmetric interconnect costs for services operating in areas designated as under-served or rural. This means that a call originating from a rural or under-serviced area and terminating in another established operator should pay a preferential rate to incentivise rural connectivity.
There is no doubt the move towards universal broadband connectivity will usher in a new skills revolution that will require active collaboration between schools, universities, relevant SETAs, and other state agencies to collaborate in skills developments. Students at primary and secondary schools and tertiary education should be encouraged to undertake technology studies as compulsory subjects, while the SETAs should prioritise the training of unemployed youth, particularly young women. Skills development targets to be met should also be included in the national ICT plan.