ICT sector gives Zuma thumbs down
While SA's economy stole the spotlight in the State of the Nation Address (SONA) yesterday, ICT - a known economic growth enabler - once again received little attention, much to the disappointment of many industry observers.
President Jacob Zuma delivered the second State of the Nation Address for the year - his seventh - at the National Assembly, in Cape Town, last night. Summarising the 17 main SONA priorities, the SA Government News Agency lists the economy, mining sector, energy, infrastructure and youth employment and empowerment as the top five. ICT does not feature in the subsequent 12.
In February, Zuma dedicated the bulk of his SONA to government's achievements. While he did mention that 37 000km of fibre-optic cable had been laid by the private and public sectors in the past five years - and that this network would be "significantly expanded" - he did not give details.
Last year, Zuma referred briefly to ICT, saying SA's broadband network would be expanded in a bid to reach universal penetration by 2020. Although he also referred to the thousands of kilometres of fibre that were laid during the last year, he did not elaborate on what plans the state had to meet its goal.
Taking a look at Zuma's 75-odd minute address last night, Ovum analyst Richard Hurst says the ICT sector is feeling disappointed, having hoped for more than the usual cursory mention or passing nod.
"From the high-level mention and the general cut and thrust of the address, one can see the government has not changed its position or focus on ICT, and perhaps of even more concern is the fact that it may have even slipped in terms of priority for the government."
Hurst says, however, worth noting is that Zuma did mention the anticipated infrastructure investment of R847 billion over the next three years, which should assist in areas such as power and other supporting infrastructure for ICT.
"At least ICT got a mention in the SONA," quips Africa Analysis analyst Dobek Pater, "but absolutely no detail". He notes that reference was made to SA Connect. "So I guess if anyone is interested in finding out exactly what the government has in mind, they need to go and dig around there."
Independent telecoms researcher Samantha Perry says while it is patent that ICT played a marginal role in this year's SONA once again, with issues like Marikana and Cape Town evictions on the table, the fact that ICT was made mention of at all is something.
"Technically speaking, policy informs the legislation needed to enable the sector, so if president Zuma mentions he wants affordable broadband and fibre roll-out, you assume it is part of government policy and - once the ministry issue has been settled - that will filter through to be dealt with."
Pater says one possible reason for the two mere "fleeting and superficial" sentences devoted to ICT is that, although the broadband policy is now in place and SA Connect has been established, the government still has not developed the detail on how to implement the goals set down in the policy. "There is no tactical strategy in place. For instance, no policy directive has as yet been provided by the government in terms of licensing new broadband spectrum."
Gareth Mellon, team leader for ICT at Frost & Sullivan Africa, says the scant focus on ICT is unfortunate, "because ICT could be leveraged to assist key areas such as education, healthcare, governance, and employment creation - all of which featured in the address".