Government should 'push' broadband

Cisco managing director Alpheus Mangale has urged the government to improve on policies that will drive broadband penetration. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
Cisco managing director Alpheus Mangale has urged the government to improve on policies that will drive broadband penetration. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
Cape Town - Government policy should enable the development of a vibrant telecoms sector that facilitates companies driving innovation, an industry player has urged.

"For us to be able to determine whether we're going to invest in South Africa, there should be a conducive environment for business to flourish. Government has to realise that they have to create policies that allow for that investment to come into the country," Alpheus Mangale, managing director of Cisco told News24.

Without naming monopolistic state-owned enterprises, he said that policies should facilitate the opening of the sector.

"If government policies are not geared up to do that, then what are those policies for? We should not have policies that are stifling innovation; we should not have policies that are taking 30 or 40 years to realise any benefit for you and I as consumers."

It is estimated that Telkom has around six million connections to consumers available, but there are approximately 850 000 cable broadband subscribers in SA.

High cost

Penetration of broadband is hampered by persistent high cost to consumers, despite several fibre cables that have reduced the cost of wholesale broadband.

The World Bank argues that broadband penetration is directly linked to economic growth.

Telkom is engaged in a broadband trial where selected users are offered 40mbps, but details like universal rollout and price are unclear.

The state-owned enterprise is also expected to spend R12bn in upgrading its network to cope with the expected user demand for the service.

Mobile operators MTN and Vodacom also announced a Long Term Evolution (LTE) rollout of around 40mbps. This service though, is hampered by the lack of spectrum availability.

According to Cisco, South African policy should seek to learn from best international practice and use the available technologies to drive technological innovation.

"Why should we spend many years re-inventing the wheel what we can go and learn from other countries that have done well? The notion of 'Not-invented-here' syndrome - it doesn't work," said Mangale.

Policies

He argued that technology companies should give direction to policy makers that would drive the policy in a direction that would facilitate a faster rollout of broadband.

"We should be getting policies that actually fast track South Africa to be active in the economic world.

"The role that we can play as Cisco and all the other companies in the industry is to have a relationship with those policy makers so that we can actually influence the policy direction in the right areas, and I think it's incumbent on us as the industry to do that," Mangale said.

The US, South Korea and countries in Western Europe have high broadband penetration rates as well as a high number of subscribers.

Mangale cited countries like Sweden where there is high broadband penetration and urged the government to copy policies that worked and adapt them for local conditions.

"There is nothing wrong if you copy to catch up. Copy somebody who has done something brilliant, enhance it and catch up on it."


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