SA's government-driven broadband plan has been put on hold, leaving the ICT industry without clear guidance on the country's broadband goals and how these would be achieved.
The Department of Communications confirms the five-year broadband plan, which was initially expected to be finalised last year, has been shelved.
The strategy was postponed pending the finalisation of the terms of reference that will guide the broadband advisory council and the appointment of a local task team that includes ICT sector stakeholders, says department spokesman Albi Modise.
The broadband strategy was expected to provide clear guidelines as to how SA planned to increase broadband penetration levels, provide telecommunications services to underserviced areas and get in line with international best practice.
President Thabo Mbeki has on numerous occasions stated telecoms plays a key role in reaching the country's development goals and enabling service delivery to citizens. He also noted telecoms costs in SA are too high, and measures need to be taken to reduce these costs.
ICT stakeholders, analysts and consumers also expected 2007 to be the year broadband makes a huge impact, with the country's subscriber base growing from 260 000 reported by Telkom at the end of 2006, to one million by the end of 2007. SA has a population of about 46 million.
Shifting goal posts
Communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri announced in her budget vote speech in May that a broadband advisory council, consisting of international experts, was set up to develop SA's broadband strategy. Matsepe-Casaburri said she expected the strategy to be presented to her by the end of 2006.
However, the terms of reference that will govern the advisory council still have to be refined, causing delays in the development of the strategy, Modise says.
It was also decided a local task team would be established to draw input from the local ICT sector in developing the strategy, he says. The department now expects to complete the drafting of the strategy by 2008, he adds.
MyADSL founder Rudolph Muller says it is regrettable the broadband plan has been put on hold, as a strong vision from government is needed to ensure higher broadband penetration rates and lower prices.
"Our fixed-line broadband environment, where most of the broadband growth should be taking place, is in a dismal state," he says.
A BMI-TechKnowledge senior analyst notes the delay is a blow to the ICT sector, leaving it without clear direction on the issue of broadband. However, the analyst adds that it is not unexpected news, as government previously failed to fulfil its promises.
World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck comments that a broadband plan in itself is meaningless. It must be part of a wider commitment from government, both in word and deed. "It needs a firm commitment from government as a whole, and a clear roadmap for how various state interests will be engaged in the process."