DA makes big ICT promises in manifesto

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Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane delivered his party's manifesto at the weekend.
Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane delivered his party's manifesto at the weekend.

Improving access and innovation in ICT is one of the core guiding principles the Democratic Alliance (DA) has identified to facilitate economic growth and job creation.

With the looming elections, political parties are drumming up support for their respective parties, and the DA used its manifesto launch, at the weekend, to detail how it plans to take the country's ICT sector forward.

In its manifesto, the DA indicates ICT is the nervous system that enables governments to offer online interaction with citizens, facilitates knowledge and cultural exchange between communities and nations, and gives access to a world of opportunities.

As a result, the opposition party believes for all South Africans to benefit from the dynamic and ever-changing world, ICT must be supported and governed by flexible policies and laws.

Mmusi Maimane, DA leader, stated in his speech that he wants "to build an ICT infrastructure that will allow all citizens to become digital citizens".

Policy mandates

Although plans are in place to reunite the communications and telecoms ministries as a way to have better coordination on ICT-related matters, the DA promises to establish one ICT department responsible for developing research-based policies and formulating legislation that gives long-term certainty for a dynamic and flexible converged telecommunication ecosystem.

This move, it believes, is the first step to harness the full benefits of ICT.

If elected to govern, the party's ICT policy will pursue legislating, through an amendment to the Constitution, the Chapter Nine independence of the sector regulator to ensure independence from political, commercial and government influence.

Furthermore, assuring investors of the constitutional protection of their investment and intellectual property in terms of owning and operating ICT facilities, such as networks and data centres, will also be a priority.

The DA intends to call on networking companies to contribute to financing, and the infrastructure build and maintenance of operational networks to marginalised communities, as well as to community-owned, not-for-profit networks. "These networking companies will be given tax relief for as long as they assure the operability for a pre-determined period of these connections to the nationwide broadband network."

Easing access

The DA's manifesto also turns its attention to the issue of making access to the Internet easier and cheaper.

It says it plans to do this by motivating that the regulator assigns spectrum via a competitive market process in the best interests of driving affordable and user-driven Internet access.

In so doing, according to the DA, it will ensure the stability and expansion of technology (like 5G) going forward, as well as serve to unlock latent investment potential.

Last week, finance minister Tito Mboweni promised to work relentlessly with communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams to ensure the issue around spectrum allocation is resolved.

The blue party goes on to mention it will give a policy directive to the regulator to determine the most effective way for all network licence-holders to separate their wholesale and retail offers to stimulate competition in wholesale network provision and drive down prices.

In addition, it will limit tariffs on some imported ICASA-compliant mobile electronic equipment, such as personal devices, to make them more affordable and drive accessibility to the Internet. It will encourage private sector and government to recruit scarce skills from wherever they can be found in the world, with a view to knowledge exchange and mentorship of local ICT developers, analysts and engineers.

Data protection

The DA aims to ensure secure citizen-centric legislative and Internet governance by developing a strategy to address both the economic and non-economic dimensions of the collection, storage and use of data of all users of devices and networks, whether they are individuals, governments or companies.

Therefore, it promises to escalate the implementation of the Protection of Personal Information Act and properly resource it with funds and skilled personnel at the office of the Information Regulator.

The DA believes it is important to strictly govern the identifying, registering and regulating of data brokers to ensure collection of data for surveillance and commercial purposes.

According to the party, it wants to build a robust, easily accessible and secure government ICT operation by ensuring all spheres of government invest in interactive online services to enable businesses and citizens to deal with governments promptly and efficiently, when applying for and renewing licences, etc.

"Working with ICT service providers to ensure the efficient planning and building of ICT infrastructure is essential to efficient and inclusive service delivery, economic investment and growth, and creating an attractive environment for citizens to work and play in.

"Ensuring roads and electricity supply to rural areas where marginalised communities need communications infrastructure."

Education aspirations

The DA is also looking to technology to reform basic education.

In the State of the Nation Address, president Cyril Ramaphosa announced that over the next six years, government will provide every school child in SA with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device.

The opposition party is also determined to use technology to improve teaching and learning. If elected, the party promises to rollout online and digital learning platforms to under-resourced schools, including computer facilities that are connected to the Internet.

Using its e-learning initiative in the Western Cape as an example, the DA says a million learners now receive better education through e-learning with access to free high-speed Internet and over 11 000 learning resources on its portal.

The manifesto states: "We must confront a shocking truth: the real matric pass rate is extremely low, only 37.6% if you include the number of 2016 Grade 10s who actually went on to pass grade 12 in 2018.

"This is why our proposals to reform basic education are centred on radically improving teaching performance, the standard of education, school management, providing safer learning environments using technology to teach and learn, as well as making sure all children have a safe and conducive learning environment."

Other future promises

Given the hiccups in migrating South African households to digital terrestrial television, the DA says it will review broadcasting digital migration policy to promptly switch off the analogue broadcasting signal to make the airwaves available for mobile broadband and ensure more choice of broadcasters and better-quality programming.

The party promises to give qualifying poor South Africans, in danger of being isolated by digital broadcasting, a voucher to use as part payment at selected retailers for their choice of digital device.

The DA says it will review the SA Connect broadband plan to identify and prioritise 'quick wins' to gain the inclusion of digitally marginalised communities to communication networks and ensure all government facilities, such as post offices and clinics, are equipped to offer capped free WiFi or Internet caf'e-type facilities for the public.

Similar to the presidential commission on the fourth industrial revolution that is in the pipeline, the DA plans to establish a presidential advisory body that will regularly report to the Presidency, on, among others, international and local ICT developments, research and application of technology and its impact on society, work, service delivery, international relations, global economic protocols, cyber security, education, multi-national dominance of the sector and market-competitive issues.

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