Between Two Stools: Broadband Policy in South Africa

Gillwald, Alison
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LINK Centre, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg
This paper explores the underlying causes of South Africa’s relatively poor broadband penetration despite Government’s acknowledgment of its centrality to a modern economy and information society. South Africa’s broadband policy has emerged from two apparently contradictory policy approaches. Until these are resolved, the sector will remain inert between two strategies, unable to move forward on either. On the one hand, broadband has evolved within the context of “managed liberalisation”, a local adaptation of the international telecommunications reform model. This has created a market structured around a number of vertically integrated operators, fixed and mobile, whose services have evolved to offer broadband. The latest phase of this model is expressed in the Electronic Communications Act which came into force in 2006 and reforms the regulatory and licensing framework to address the challenges of convergence. Within this context, broadband uptake has been relatively poor and costs of ADSL and mobile HSDPA services remain high as a result of limited competition and ineffective regulation. This has prompted Government to adopt another strategy, in parallel with its current reform process. It has initiated a fully state owned broadband operator, which is also expected to address the high cost of international cable bandwidth currently provided exclusively by the incumbent. This paper examines the underlying reasons for the development of these two potentially contradictory processes and their institutional arrangements to assess the implications for the achievement of national policy objectives on broadband extension.
Gillwald, A., (2007). Between two stools: Broadband policy in South Africa. The Southern African Journal of Information and Communication (SAJIC), 8, 53-77.