I have thinking, for a little while now, that broadband, certainly a basic telecommunications service, ought to be regarded as a basic right enjoyed by all citizens, particularly in light of the government’s insistence that information technology is vital for South Africa’s continued economic development. One reason why this probably wouldn’t happen anytime soon is that if access to a telecommunications service like broadband comes to be recognised as a right on a par with, dare I say it, the rights enshrined in our Bill of Rights (particularly the so-called socio-economic rights like the right to housing).
Short of recognition as a right all citizens ought to enjoy, the next step seems to be to regard broadband as a utility like electricity and water. It seems that certain local governments are starting to think along these lines. Moneyweb has reported that some of the local councils have grown weary with Telkom’s exhorbitant prices and may start offering broadband to their citizens on the back of the success of their own internal networks:
The high cost of telecommunications in South Africa is hurting consumers and businesses alike. Most companies and individuals are at the mercy of Telkom, our only fixed line provider, but many municipalities have had enough and are taking matters into their own hands.
Municipalities such as Tshwane, Johannesburg and Knysna are already using their own telecoms infrastructure to meet their internal telecommunications needs. This has proved successful to innovative councils and they are now branching out to try to provide affordable services to their residents. Cities are realising that the high cost of telephony and internet access slow economic growth. They are therefore providing these services themselves.The involvement of local governments and cities in the deployment of telecoms networks is not a new phenomenon. The investment in these Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) is driven by the failure of incumbent operators to effectively respond to the needs of local communities. Telkom’s high prices and lack of service in many of the less populated, or less affluent regions of the country have provided the perfect conditions for MANs.Telkom’s inability to deliver services to certain sectors of the population has created a gap for MANs to fill.Telephony and internet access are essential services to effectively function in society and to compete on the global front. Government and Telkom’s lack of commitment and their slowness to act on past promises have forced other parties to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into the business of providing telecoms services to their citizens. Municipalities are now partnering with various smaller telecoms providers to ensure that their local populace does not fall behind.
While there has been much talk about changing the local telecommunications landscape through measures such as the recently passed Electronic Communications Act which enables greater competition, I don’t believe that there is sufficient political will or clout to force the drastic change customers have been calling for anytime soon. Instead we will probably see measures like this being adopted to force change and meet the huge demand for affordable broadband services.