Government’s telecoms plan is a mess – Telkom CEO


Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko has criticised the National Treasury’s recent discussion paper on economic transformation.

Maseko has written a column in the Sunday Times which states that the paper is “incoherent, ill-thought-out and ultimately chaotic” in its recommendations for the telecoms sector.

Telkom’s CEO said the motivation of the paper cannot be faulted, as South Africa is in a “precarious economic situation” and ideas are needed to “pull us out of the mire”.

“The Treasury is correct to call for a series of deliberate and concerted actions across all fronts… These actions are aimed at transforming the economy and putting it on a trajectory of growth and inclusivity. But the gap between intent and action can be damagingly large, and this is unfortunately the case with the measures that the Treasury suggests in its position paper,” said Maseko.

The problems

Maseko highlighted several problems with the paper, including the fact that “the Treasury is either not aware of or wilfully disregards government policies already adopted in other departments”.

“It does not speak well of the government, nor our ability as a country to attract and retain investment, if the Treasury issues policy position papers that gainsay a government policy adopted only a month ago.”

He said there is also a discrepancy between what different government departments are advocating in terms of policy direction – which makes it difficult for businesses to plan ahead.

In the telecoms space, this includes the department of communications issuing a policy on high-demand spectrum, and the policy direction to ICASA on the licensing of spectrum for the WOAN.

“It boggles the mind that the Treasury paper, published on August 27, reads as if the authors had never had sight of the July 26 government gazette on spectrum,” said Maseko.

“By way of example, the paper urges the state to speed up the auctioning of spectrum and adds that a small amount should be set aside for a government-controlled network. By this presumably they mean the WOAN, but the policy direction said the WOAN should not be government-controlled, and the policy direction said that the WOAN should get enough spectrum to be competitive.”

Maseko stated that this is only the start of the paper’s incoherence.

“It goes on to contradict existing ICT policy and the regulatory framework, the outcome of the priority markets investigation by ICASA, and the preliminary findings of the Competition Commission’s inquiry into the data services market.”

The Treasury paper says nothing about over-the-top services, cloud, platforms, the Internet and other technologies, he added – raising questions about their knowledge of the telecoms sector.

“This raises a more general and very worrying question: if the authors of the Treasury document can get telecoms and ICT so wrong, can their prescriptions for energy, infrastructure, agriculture, tourism, or transport be trusted?”

The minister

In September 2018, Maseko said that if he was the minister of communications he would balance the competition in the market.

If competition is uneven, that means it is not possible to provide services across the population in a sustainable way, he said.

“If others lose because their products and services are lousy, that’s okay, but they mustn’t lose because the system is stacked against them,” Maseko said.