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Economics and Social Value of Spectrum: Moving South African ICT Forward – MOTHIBI RAMUSI

MOTHIBI RAMUSIAs we celebrate the 60th year of the Freedom Charter, let us open our hands, hearts and sing our revolutionary songs but at the same time reflect and assess our achievements and/or failures towards the delivery of our socio-economic agenda that we committed ourselves, through the Freedom Charter. We proudly adopted our Charter and among others committed to the following principles, The People Shall Share in the Country’s Wealth!There Shall be Work and Security, “The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened.

Is there a good story to tell about our achievements based on the above pledges particularly in the Information and Communications Technology sector?

In the context of this paper, I have identified one of the most profound and important natural resource, Spectrum (commonly referred to as Frequency), from which we should assess if our glorious movement have made stride in ensuring that there is fair and equitable distribution of this resources to our citizens, academia and business in general.

As background, spectrum underpins our modern lives. We cannot see or feel it, but without it we would have no telephony, television, radio, navigation, internet, safety of life services, etc. As being a scare resource, we cannot make more of it but what is certain is that we can use it more efficiently, just like water. It therefore suggests that proper management principles must be adhered to towards the assignment and

use of this valuable asset. The Charter states “that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities”.

It is worth stating the fact that as people we were all created with equal rights, also given dominion to rule on all things on earth, dignity, and the potential to achieve greater things. True opportunity requires that we all have equal access to the benefits of our Country, burdens and responsibilities of our society regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or other aspects.

Equal rights and opportunities require development of governance frameworks that are based on best practice and are easy to implement. Stemming from this statement, it is not by accident that the ANC must take pride to the fact that it has responded positively to the call – positive strides were achieved through the development of the telecommunications, broadcasting and postal policies including the development of regulatory governance frameworks addressing among others, equal rights.

The ANC laid the foundation and led the democratic change. This was furthermore achieved through the establishment of a policy formulation Ministry through the democratic government of the day, that is, Ministry of Telecommunications, Broadcasting and Postal Services, followed by implementation agencies which included the South African Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (SATRA), Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and other related entities to ensure delivery. The governance structure was further cemented through the establishment of the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA), a product of statute.

ICASA was established in July 2000, as a merger of the telecommunications regulator, the South African Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (SATRA) and the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA). The ICASA Amendment Act 2005 also provided for the incorporation of the Postal Regulator into ICASA.

The Authority is responsible for regulating the telecommunications, broadcasting and postal industries in the public interest and ensures affordable services of a high quality for all South Africans. The Authority also issues licenses to telecommunications and broadcasting service providers’, enforces compliance with rules and regulations, protects consumers from unfair business practices and poor quality services, hears and decides on disputes and complaints brought against licensees and controls and manages the effective use of radio frequency spectrum. ICASA is a Chapter 9 institution (an institution which supports democracy) in terms of the South African Constitution.

South Africa has always been destined to be a free country with no boundaries between citizens, non-discrimination in relation to communications and most importantly equal access to communications services and wealth.

The charter remains the masterpiece foundation of our democracy. Notably, the telecommunications and media sector was recognized as a crucial negotiating point during the transitional phase from the apartheid regime to a democratic government. The past twenty one years of democracy in South Africa has been an extraordinary time for the development of an information and communication technologies (ICTs) agenda considering that the bulk if not all of the Charter’ deliverables has a direct reliance to technological development and in the midst spectrum remains a focal central point of note.

In economic terms, spectrum is hugely valuable. As already mentioned, broadcasting and telecommunications services requires spectrum as part of their operational infrastructure. Gross advertising revenue for South Africa’s broadcasting industry is estimated to have increased in value from just over R2 billion to close to R15 billion between 1994 and 2010. This growth reflects massive transformation in the industry. [National Association of Broadcasting, Report 2013]. This is a huge departure from the pre-1994 South African broadcasting environment, which at the time was dominated by the SABC. The change saw the licensing of Pay-To-View television services, community and commercial radio stations. This change in the broadcasting sector came as a result of regulatory reforms as originally envisaged through the Charter. The fastest-growing area has been telecommunications, with an annual growth rate of over 9 percent from 1994 to 2012, [Statistics South Africa, GDP data].The telecommunications sector has witnessed considerable investment by the private sector, which has led to rapid service provision in the sector.

In economic terms spectrum fees are already worth around R1bn a year to the South African economy [Parliament of South Africa, National Assembly, Question 276, 7 March 2014]. We are confident that we can grow that value from spectrum’s direct use significantly and the indirect impact on businesses which rely on ICT will multiply the effect on economic growth. In societal terms spectrum allows us to enjoy live entertainment and broadcasting, to travel safely, to communicate when on the move, and to keep our critical infrastructure working. Technical innovation is finding exciting new uses such as machines talking to machines, doctors conducting routine health checks remotely, as well as new techniques that enable us to share spectrum so we can find more value from this valuable resource..

South Africa must continue to innovate in the way that spectrum should be managed and to widen its use as far as possible. The ANC has established governance structures that have given business and the public sector confidence to invest in the services they value most. But the years ahead present new challenges – addressing the digital divide, which is, ensuring that there is sufficient spectrum available for mobile and/or new potential players.

In the context of the National Development Plan the ANC must ensure that use of spectrum must double South Africa’s annual contribution to the economy by 2030 through offering business, citizens and academia the access it needs. This is because spectrum is so useful and also valuable.

All Shall Enjoy Equal Human Rights. Broadband has become a key priority for all citizens of the world in the coming years. It will remain an enabler for economic and social growth which will make it an essential tool for empowering citizens, creating an environment that nurtures the technological and service innovation, and triggering positive change in business and academia processes as well as in society as a whole.

Broadband cannot be managed in isolation and therefore the ANC must within the context of new development continue to address the explosion of real and perceived demand for spectrum capacity to accommodate services as required by the under-serviced communities, the property rights, flexible rights of use model presents several advantages.

The People Shall Govern. In ensuring equality and fairness to role players in relation to allocation of spectrum, proper methods of allocation of spectrum should now be looked into. The need to make large chunks of spectrum available to the market is seen as urgent and time sensitive. Command-and-control allocation procedures are often time-consuming, less efficient and less effective at making spectrum resources available, but adopting market mechanisms is seen as a better way to ensure that spectrum rights are assigned to those most able to use them efficiently and effectively – something that will be worth looking at to avoid any wastage of spectrum use in our country.

At the core of designing a proper market-based assignment process is learning how to value spectrum in economic terms. Before examining how to value spectrum, it is first useful to consider why spectrum is given a value. In other words, why is spectrum valuation relevant to what regulators do? We have already noted that the demand for BWA services increasingly leads to consideration of spectrum access from an economic angle, but what specific occasions arise for using valuation methods? There is no single method to determine the value of spectrum across all uses, all jurisdictions, or all periods time.

It is clear that with demand for mobile broadband and other commercial services set to rise potentially up to 300 times current levels in the next fifteen years, the need to use spectrum as efficiently as possible has never been greater. A 2012 report by Real Wireless for Ofcom predicts, in the medium-demand case with ‘steady growth’, an 80-times increase in demand for mobile data by 2030, equivalent to about 2,000 petabytes of data per month in the UK alone [http://www.ofcom.org.uk/static/uhf/real-wireless-report.pdf].

In 2013 Cisco forecast that by 2017 there will be more devices using machine-to-machine communications than there are people in the world, accounting for 563 petabytes of data per month. We need to plan to meet this demand and also to make sure that the benefits are enjoyed as widely as possible. For example, sustaining mobile broadband growth, including the delivery of high-capacity services to rural areas, will enable businesses to grow and also enable our rural communities to be fully included in that growth. [http://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/collateral].

Spectrum is an important catalyst for innovation and growth of the economy. Technological advancements over the last couple of decades have already transformed the way we use and view spectrum. However the nature of spectrum itself as a resource has not changed. It is finite and different parts of the spectrum are not interchangeable due to their differing physical characteristics.

On 15 April 2015, the WEF released its Global Information Technology Report 2015 which contains its Networked Readiness Index (NRI) ranking. This ranking measures 143 economies in terms of their capacity to prepare for, use and leverage ICTs. The index uses factors such as the political and regulatory environment, infrastructure and digital content, usage of ICT as well as economic and social impacts to calculate the overall NRI ranking. And South Africa has slipped five places to 75th, meaning that it is now third in Africa behind Mauritius (45) and Seychelles (74). SA is wedged between Seychelles and the Philippines on the ranking.

Overall, the potential of ICTs has not been fully unlocked. Their social impacts have not yet materialised, and they have not significantly improved access to basic services (101st) or facilitated citizens’ e-participation (88th),” adds the report.

Does this represent failure on the part of government or/and lack to implement developed spectrum policy?

The Land Shall be Shared Among Those Who Work It. The ANC has recently announced plans to develop smart cities concepts. These establishments will require telecommunication infrastructure to interconnect and provide security and services to business. This type of transformation will be essential to address the challenges of rapid urbanisation by improving services and managing their efficiency. Smart cities requires innovation that will advance the public to have access to real time information which will enable commuters  to make more informed choices, such as planning a journey by checking for available upfront pertaining to traffic, bus schedules, etc. Spectrum will continue to play an important role in these establishments. Ongoing debates and discussions on the high demand spectrum are eminent.

Article by MOTHIBI RAMUSI

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