SA’s WOAN Should Be A Catalyst To Transforming ICT Sector

The 2018 WOAN colloquium will be held tomorrow in Midrand Conference Centre.

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Siyabonga Cwele, the Minister of telecommunications and postal services
Siyabonga Cwele, the Minister of telecommunications and postal services

The Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN) should be seen as a catalyst in addressing the transformation of the ICT sector mainly through promoting effective competition, addressing barriers to entry and advancing transformation in line with Government policy goals.

That’s the view of the newly established OpenAccess WOAN Forum SA, in a discussion document that is aimed at advancing the argument for the realisation of the WOAN and projects the policy environment that will be suitable for the shake-up of the ICT sector.

The aim is to enable the rollout of the network that will be truly universal and accessible to all South Africans irrespective of where they are, who they are and what sectors of the economy they participate in.

The Open Access WOAN Forum SA will host a colloquium tomorrow in Midrand Conference Centre to act as a forum for discussion of the ICT policy and legislation with respect to the establishment of the WOAN and then making a submission to the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services.

South Africa government is planning to establish a wholesale provider of communications services, to which most if not all future mobile spectrum will be assigned.

But the country’s two biggest mobile phone operators – Vodacom and MTN – the GSM Association and the Free Market Foundation are opposing the creation of WOAN.

Telkom – the country’s largest fixed-line telephone group, is supporting the Mexican WOAN model, which South Africa’s aspire to implement.

The WOAN Forum is a thought leadership grouping focussed on bringing about the best policy and regulatory environment for the establishment of the WOAN and the real social and economic transformation of the capital-intensive ICT sector to enable new entrants and the transformation of the sector thereby allowing for meaningful participation of black owned businesses, SMMEs, Women and the Youth.

According to the WOAN Forum website, its current stakeholders include Black Business Council, Cell C, Communications Workers Union, Convergence Partners, Hope Technologies, Smile Telecoms, and South African Youth Chamber of Commerce (SAYCC).

There are several ICT firms not represented in the WOAN Forum.

In the discussion document, the WOAN Forum argues that it is important that the policy direction aligns with the spirit of the planned WOAN so as to provide the necessary certainty to potential investors.

“The economic viability and sustainability of the WOAN as a business venture is of critical importance as it will attract and retain private capital.”

The biggest problem, the forum said it has identified with the policy direction to ICASA is the failure to acknowledge that there is a need to first address the market failures inherent in the current regulatory regime.

“For all practical purposes the policy directive is requiring ICASA to use the failing existing rules and arrangements to birth a new order,” the Forum states in the discussion document.

“Apologetically, we think the limited success of the last two mobile market entrants already indicate that unless something radical is done by the authorities those who dominate the sector will continue to do so to the detriment of the WOAN. Existing regulatory conditions are not conducive to a successful entry of any new player in the ICT sector”

The forum further argues that a desperate fight of the incumbents to preserve their hold on the ICT sector is well documented and reflected in the challenges to the policy process to date.

The attempts to impose a unipolar analytical framework mask the reality that the South African ICT sector under their tutelage is not growing at the pace required, has failed to achieve universal access policy goals, faces a serious shrink in jobs and stifling economic activity overall, says the forum.

“The system is though profitable for the few dominant companies and hence the confusion they continue to generate to frustrate the desired changes to the political economy of the ICT sector and the economy in general,” according to the discussion document.

“The future is a shared economy underpinned by ubiquitous availability of ICT infrastructure that is accessible on a cost-effective basis to all who need such infrastructure for business, private communication as well as for social and entertainment needs. “

The 2018 WOAN colloquium will be held tomorrow in Midrand Conference Centre.

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