August 29, 2013
WAPA has commended the new Minister of Communications, Yunus Carrim, for tabling his plan of action to the portfolio committee, but has warned that more is needed to get South Africa back on the ‘high road’ of broadband access.
This high road requires that South Africa offer its citizens fast, affordable and quality broadband access to create a more competitive nation and directly fuel economic growth. The telecommunications industry itself needs to become more competitive, create jobs, transfer skills, increase rural broadband penetration and reduce the so-called ‘digital divide’ so that all citizens can participate fully in the benefits of a digital economy.
These sentiments are all part of the tabled plan, but WAPA claims that an essential but missing prerequisite of this high road is for the government to engage the dozens of smaller operators that it represents. “Our operator-members tick all the boxes of the government’s overall broadband and economic objectives”, says Christopher Geerdts, chairperson of WAPA, “and therefore form a critical component of any solution”.
WAPA has over 160 members, comprised of a vibrant and fast-growing community of small and medium sized operators and service providers, with strong empowerment credentials. Together, they have presence in dense urban areas, but importantly also in the smallest towns across the country. Their size and location provides a unique and important contribution to rural rollout initiatives. WAPA members already have a proven track record of connecting dozens of schools and clinics. Their ability to complement the efforts of the large operators has already been successfully demonstrated recently in a significant joint venture with one such operator. Recently, a tender by a progressive municipality made WAPA membership a pre-requisite for bidders.
“This confidence in WAPA at the local government level needs to translate into high level engagement”, says Geerdts, “in order to balance the interests of the larger players with those of the wider industry, and to bring insights from those who have actually implemented rural projects, actually created jobs, actually provided developed skills within communities”.
In addition to this engagement, WAPA seeks spectral reform which results in more efficient spectral use and more customer choice. In particular, WAPA is promoting a more equitable lite-licensing model for spectrum, and also seeking access to the largely unused spectrum in the VHF television bands, following the lead of a number of other countries.
“Our members have achieved so much to drive affordable, quality broadband with high levels of innovation and customer service and all on the back of limited, shared spectrum”, concludes Geerdts, “How much more can be achieved with stronger government collaboration and better access to quality spectrum”.