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ICT Policy Review Panel requests USAASA research into access gaps


Johannesburg, 26 Sep 2013
Read time 2min 30sec

Last week, USAASA CEO Zami Nkosi formally submitted research input on the state of universality across the broadcasting, telecommunications and postal services sectors to the ICT Policy Review Panel lead by industry veteran, Joe Mjwara. According to Nkosi, the research is part of the development of the national strategy on universal service and access that the Agency will be publishing for public comment soon.

Says Board Chairperson, Pumla Radebe: "The national strategy on universal service and access is a key project on USAASA's table, wherein a thorough review of the sector - both public and private - has been conducted as a means to informing policy development but also to advise the Minister of progress towards achieving universality of ICTs for the country. It is a process that should have been undertaken at the inception of the Agency in the mid-1990s and updated regularly so as to inform government and the country as whole on progress. The development of this strategy is indeed a first in the history of the Agency and the country, and we are delighted that the Panel has found it useful in their processes."

Segmented into five key stages, Nkosi explains that it begins with a situational analysis of the sector and progresses towards an identification and quantification of access gaps. "This is perhaps the most interesting part from a USAASA standpoint because it clearly shows the magnitude of the problem to be managed. We have, in fact, moved beyond these two stages and are completing a costing exercise through which we will be able to inform government of the approximate investment required to the last mile, and, of course, the approach to bridge the digital gap by or before 2020."

"We have successfully interacted with the ICT Policy Review Panel and other key stakeholders as a means to ensure constructive input. We have also made our access gap maps available to both the Department and the Panel. Given that we are now part of its working group, a more consolidated working relationship will result in what we expect to be good public debate. Our interest is in making sure USAASA functions according to what the ECA requires of it. These are the beginnings of that process."

Radebe, in a previous August release, informed the public that, very soon, there will be a plan on the table to ensure that these communities are covered like any other; to ensure that service delivery is enabled through the use of communications technology. "The plan is almost there. Given its critical importance to the NDP and the Growth Path, it is defined as a Board project and has been given considerable attention by the Board."

USAASA

The Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa ("the Agency") was established in terms of the Electronic Communications Act ("the ECA") with a sole mandate to promote the goals of universal access and universal service. The Agency is accountable to Parliament and the general public. Its status as a public body is affirmed through Schedule 3A of the Public Finance Management Act (Act No. 1 of 1999) ("the PFMA").

The right to communicate is a fundamental right enshrined in the South African Constitution. Passed in 1996, the Constitution establishes the right to freedom of expression, including the "freedom to receive and impart information or ideas". The freedom of expression has been interpreted to mean not only the right to speak and to be heard, but also the right to access the means to speak and to be heard.

To this end, the information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure of South Africa will not be complete until it reaches all areas and people throughout the country. However, providing access is but one component. It needs to be affordable and provide all citizens with the full range of traditional and emerging ICTs, taking into account the unique needs among the user populations, including considerations of gender, age, ethnic, linguistic distinctions and disabilities.

Editorial contacts
USAASA Makhotso Moiloa makhotso@usaasa.org.za
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