The Rapid Deployment Policy on offer from the government has the potential to transform South Africa and the industry
The Rapid Deployment Policy has a very clear purpose and intent. Its goal is to facilitate the rapid deployment of facilities and networks that will provide South Africa with the foundations it needs to support a digital future and its ability to leverage the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The policy considers multiple factors that range from the competing rights and interests of property owners and the deployment of infrastructure within relevant frameworks, to the management of relevant authorities. According to Vino Govender, Chief Strategy, Mergers and Acquisitions, and Innovation Officer at DFA, the policy is critical to taking South Africa into the digital economy.
“If the policy works as it is expected to, it has the potential to help the country realize the benefits associated with the 4IR and to accelerate digital transformation and adoption,” he adds. “The reality is that the deployment of communications networks is critical and non-negotiable right now, especially as we emerge from the pandemic with a fragile and complex economy.”
At a time when South Africa, along with the rest of the world, has found itself in the midst of a disaster owing to Covid-19, connectivity became critical for providing some level of continuity. In line with sections of the Disaster Management Act, the Department of Telecommunications and Digital Technologies has entered a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Department of Corporate Governance to further fast-track the roll-out of infrastructure in dealing not only with the pandemic but also with the consequences of the measures taken to mitigate its impact.
Technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G, and edge computing play an important role in the future of any digital economy. They allow for shifts in infrastructure and development that improve quality of service and create opportunities to advance business, employment, and growth. If these technologies are given the right foundations on which to flourish, they can push South Africa onto the world stage as a leader on the continent and in commerce. The country has proven its mettle as an innovator, but it needs the connectivity and networks to make good on its potential.
“To bring these technologies to life, it is essential to have high-speed access across appropriate technology bearers, such as metro Ethernet fibre, GPON, 5G, and 4G, supported by large-scale fibre deployments”, explains Govender. “That is what’s driving this policy – the need to accelerate the deployment of digital infrastructure. However, this is dependent on the alignment, coordination, and expediting of processes that are related to contractual agreements, compensation, the availability of information to grant permissions, and the costs incurred to acquire the permissions needed to build out infrastructure.”
It is not an easy process and will require that challenges are met and barriers climbed. This is why the policy is so important. It will provide clear rules of engagement and the resourcing of functions that will speed up the deployment of infrastructure and ensure that there’s clarity around the policy, rules, roles, and legal and commercial obligations of the different parties. The policy will also ensure that there’s alignment across multiple stakeholders when it comes to the accelerated deployment of infrastructure that will, over time, improve the quality and consistency of services.
“By complying with the policy and the application processes, and by obtaining wayleave certification from the relevant authorities, stakeholders will all be on the same page and share the same goals”, says Govender. “It also means that all those involved will exercise due care and diligence to minimize damage and will act according to good engineering practice. As they enter properties and manage the installation of infrastructure, they will focus on the individual and their rights and take all reasonable steps to return the property to its former condition. This assurance not only cements the good standing of stakeholders but also engenders trust with the property owners.”
While the MoU will further buttress this by allowing for concessions such as relaxing the upfront payments of wayleaves over the disaster period, the policy will ensure that stakeholders follow best practice and comply with regulatory or industry standards in the design, planning, and installation of networks and facilities. It will also uphold the principles of infrastructure sharing and facility leasing and ensure that there is reasonable compensation between the property owner and the licensee if there is any damage.
“It is important to note that the policy outlines how the licensee retains ownership of any electronic communications networks and facilities that are constructed, and the property owner has to ensure that there is due care and diligence undertaken to avoid damage to the facilities,” says Govender. “There are multiple critical considerations embedded into the policy that take the stakeholders’ and the property owners’ concerns into account, ensuring that everyone is taken care of ethically and legally.”
For DFA, the rapid deployment policy is a powerful tool in supporting the development of infrastructure that underpins the development of a digital economy and society. Although a temporary measure, the DCDT–COGTA MoU will also have an impact on access to connectivity for some time to come. DFA believes that this kind of regulatory support is a critical part of the digital ecosystem and that all stakeholders need to make meaningful contributions to this ecosystem to ensure the digital future of the country and its citizens.