|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East II 2002|
|Topic:||A New Deal For Africa – Communications, Regulation And Development|
|Organisation:||Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA)|
Africa’s countries have a common interest in the future of broadcasting, telecommunications and ICT that requires investment, competitive markets and development. There is a new African consensus about the approach to the eradication of poverty at the heart of which are issues of political and economic governance, sustainable development, bridging the infrastructure gap, the mobilisation of capital and market access. The challenges facing communications regulators in Africa are clearly defined; an African consensus about how to meet these challenges is needed.
Africa’s countries – its governments, regulators, industry, NGOs, academics and the media – all have a common interest in the future of broadcasting, telecommunications and ICT. For many of us here that future should involve investment, competitive markets and development. We should not let the pessimism of a bear market deviate policy makers from the core philosophy linking communications to development. In any event, as the communications regulator in South Africa, we are happy to report that all our major broadcasting and telecommunications operators are in fairly good economic health. Companies may complain about tough economic trading conditions, market contraction and regulatory hurdles, but South African communication companies have not suffered the spectacular failures recently witnessed in the United States and Europe. ICASA hopes to develop policies and regulations that will ensure that our communications industries continue to grow, whilst meeting important cultural and economic objectives. This is no easy task in a heavily contested environment and we will continue to refine and improve our approach to regulation. The publication of the seminal document on New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) or Le Nouveau Partenariat pour le développement de l’Afrique in October 2001 signalled the beginning of a new African consensus about the way we should approach the eradication of poverty on the continent. At the heart of this new consensus are issues of political and economic governance, sustainable development, bridging the infrastructure gap, the mobilisation of capital and market access. It is clear that the NEPAD model of economic development necessitates the creation of suitable regulatory institutions that will assist in the facilitation of this development. In April this year a Conference on the Financing of NEPAD was held in Dakar, Senegal. The moderator of the workshop on infrastructure investment noted, amongst other things, that “among the obstacles discouraging private sector participation in the financing of infrastructure” in Africa was the “inappropriate legal and regulatory and institutional environment: there is need for a clear, secured, stable and encouraging regulatory framework”. The challenges facing communications regulators in Africa have been clearly defined. We need to build an African consensus about how we meet these challenges. In South Africa, we have had independent regulatory institutions for over eight years now and we are consistently learning in an increasingly complex environment. ICASA, as many of you may know, is the merged independent regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications in South Africa. In July 2000 we merged the broadcasting regulator with the telecommunications regulator to form one independent body responsible for regulating and allocating the frequency spectrum. In our view the four main areas of concern for a communications regulator in Africa should be: 1. The bridging of the digital and infrastructural divide. NEPAD states that “there are only 18 mainline telephones per 1000 people in Africa, compared with 146 for the rest of the world as a whole and 567 for high-income countries”. The regulator should create the conditions for universal access to telecommunications, and universal access to competitive broadcasting services and media outlets; 2. The promotion and protection of indigenous cultural industries through airtime quotas on indigenous television content, independent television production and indigenous music. Although Africa has made fundamental contributions to world culture through literature, music visual arts and other cultural forms, we are still a net importer of music and films. Our indigenous cultural industries struggle to compete in the age of globalisation. ICASA has attempted to address these national cultural issues without inhibiting freedom of expression. 3. The promotion of affordable telecommunications and broadcasting services by encouraging competition in all markets. Through the managed liberalisation of the telecommunications markets and a review of ownership limitations in broadcasting, ICASA will facilitate competitive market conditions that should lead to more affordable and better services for consumers and audiences. 4. The maintenance of good governance and independence from political and commercial interference. I will now deal briefly with each area. 1. Bridging the Digital and Infrastructural Divide: Universal Access to Communication Services The importance of bridging the digital and infrastructural divide in Africa has been re-stated many times at many different conferences, so I will not go into detail here. But the link between sustainable development and investment in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) is a well-worn fact. NEPAD also states that on the African continent: “poor ICT infrastructure, combined with weak policy and regulatory frameworks and limited human resources, has resulted in inadequate access to affordable telephones, broadcasting, computers and the Internet”. ICASA places obligations on its telecommunication licensees to roll out services to uneconomic areas, install community phones and make contributions to a Universal Service Fund. In the next few months we will begin the process of licensing under serviced area companies that will target those communities with less than five phones per 100 people. With regard to broadcasting, we believe that the public broadcaster has a duty to cover the entire country and provide programming that caters for the diverse interests of our people. We are also dedicated to ensuring that all our citizens have a choice of broadcasting services and information outlets. Many are arguing that digital broadcasting may be an important technological means of achieving that goal. The Digital Broadcasting Advisory Body recently published a discussion paper on the way forward for digital terrestrial broadcasting in South Africa. We hope that South Africa will be able to learn from other countries and avoid mistakes that have been made. 2. Promoting Indigenous Film, Television and Music Content ICASA takes the promotion of South African Film, Television and Music Content very seriously and we are pleased that the NEPAD document has recognised “culture as an integral part of development efforts on the continent. The NEPAD document states further that it “is essential to protect and effectively utilise indigenous knowledge that represents a major dimension of the continent’s culture, and to share this knowledge for the benefit of humankind”. In 1997 we imposed minimum airtime quotas for South African television content, independent television production and South African music. In February this year ICASA published a final position paper which sets out a detailed review of our 1997 regulations. Some areas of interest include: · for television co-productions with other countries, a South African financial interest of only 20% will qualify the production as South African; · for television programmes produced in other African countries, it is proposed that reciprocal agreements be concluded with other African regulators to promote African content on continent-wide basis; · ICASA has introduced a weighting system favouring neglected categories such as South African drama (e.g. feature films and mini-series), programming in African languages, arts programming and children’s programming; · for repeat programming, we have decided that first repeats aimed at a different audience to the first screening will count 50% but further repeats will not count towards quota; and · for independent production, we have introduced a points system favouring companies controlled by black and female South Africans as well as companies based outside of the Western Cape and Gauteng – the two major television production centres in South Africa. ICASA has also increased the television quotas across programme and licence categories as well. Quotas for South African music on radio were also increased. For African music, ICASA aims to establish reciprocal agreements with other African regulatory bodies. These new regulations become effective in August 2003. Copies of the Position Paper on South African Content can be downloaded from our website. 3. Promoting Affordable Services through Competitive Markets In South Africa we are trying to ensure a competitive telecom market with the belief that greater competition will lead to more affordable and better telecommunications services for all our people and, consequently, help bridge the digital divide. Of course, we have to be cognisant of fact that – on its own – competition will not simply deliver better services to, for example, the rural poor or uneconomic, underserviced areas. The regulator has to play leading role in ensuring that the divide is bridged and that underserviced areas are in fact serviced. This year we hope to licence the Second Network Operator (SNO) as a fixed line competitor to the incumbent monopoly Telkom SA. We have already licensed Sentech – the state-owned signal distribution company – as a carrier of carriers and a multimedia service provider. ICASA is also dealing with the issues of market access by reviewing our ownership limitations in broadcasting. We recently launched a discussion paper that deals with the last six years of commercial broadcasting and includes a critical frank assessment of all the regulatory and commercial issues. We are investigating how we can promote direct foreign investment, assist the industry to continue on a steady growth path and consolidate whilst at the same time promoting the policy goals of black economic empowerment and diversity of ownership. Copies of the Paper can either be obtained in the IIC Office or on the ICASA website. 4. Good Governance and Institutional Independence In just over a year we have gone a long way towards re-establishing the integrity of our procedures and processes. To this end, ICASA’s Council has a Code of Conduct that is our guiding document as we seek to entrench the principles of good governance and ethical conduct. As Africa begins to open up to independent regulation, competition and privatisation of state assets, it is important that our regulators are quarantined from the corruption and influence-peddling that has been rife on our continent. As our Minister has pointed out, corruption and fraud in the corporate world is not the preserve of the developing nations. But we can be sure that regulatory reform will founder on the rocks of corruption if steps are not taken to protect the independence of regulators and to take action against those regulators that breach the principles of good governance and ethical conduct. In addition, regulators need the technical, economic and legal resources to conduct proper probity checks into the financial viability of applicants for telecommunications and broadcasting licences. There is a paucity of skills in broadcast and telecommunications regulation and the regulator has effectively become the training ground for many of our industry’ senior and regulatory affairs managers. Although ICASA does not dispute the right of our employees to further their careers in the industry, we need to analyse why we are not creating sufficient graduates who see a career in broadcasting and telecommunications regulation, whether in the public or private sectors. It has become our mantra that only a well-resourced, credible and independent regulator can successfully address the concerns of the broadcasting and telecommunications sectors. However, debates about institutional independence and good governance become academic when one does not have the skills to regulate companies worth billions of dollars. ConcludingRemarks As a merged regulator, ICASA always has to ensure that the sector anxiety about broadcasting being overshadowed by telecommunications interests is addressed. It is important to ensure that all areas of regulation receive the appropriate attention and resources. Tackling policy changes in communications regulation is a worthy undertaking for all the reasons mentioned above. It is important in unleashing the creative powers of policymakers and regulators and – in our instance – to ensure that the vaunted vision of the architects of Africa’s road to recovery is realised. It is not going to be an easy road to travel, as it is strewn with thorns and glass shards of a history of neglect, disparagement and contempt practised by certain developed sections of our planet. For us at ICASA, it is a road that we’ll travel, where, even if in given instances there might not be a precedent, we have the power and the will to manufacture our own roadmap and chart the course of our own future.