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Good intentions, poor outcomes: Telecommunications reform in South Africa

  • Gillwald, Alison
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    As the first decade of democratic rule draws to a close in South Africa, this paper reviews the telecommunications reform process in terms of the performance of the sector against the twin national policy objectives of affordable access to communications services and accelerated development to meet the needs of a modern economy. It critiques the implementation of international reform models which have in practice tended to emphasise privatisation at the expense of other reform mechanisms--including competition and, in particular, regulatory measures. It argues that this has impacted negatively on affordable access and has inhibited market innovation. This paper identifies the root of the problem as the market structure. Designed around the vertically integrated incumbent operator, it induces inherently anti-competitive impertives that demands a resource-intensive regulatory response. The regulator has often not had the statutory powers, and seldom the capacity, to circumscribe the behaviour of the incumbent so that it does not impact negatively on new entrants. Without effective regulation, the assumed benefits of liberalisation--including more affordable access through improved management of the incumbent and more efficient allocation of resources in the market through competition--do not materialise. The paper argues that developing country telecommunications markets demand more from a regulator than simply meeting the threshold requirements of transparency and predictability via so-called international "best practice" models. Such a limited approach will not be sufficient to meet the challenges facing most developing countries. The highly imperfect nature of developing country markets, and the enormous income disparities and inequities that exist, require strategic regulation. This is necessary to enable innovative service provision, especially to under-serviced areas, and to facilitate fair competitive markets that promote the viability of the new entrants needed to build the information infrastructure--the infrastructure necessary for a country's participation in the global network economy. Simply removing all market-entry restrictions, however, is likely to place an even more onerous burden on already-struggling regulators and is unlikely to contribute to universal access and other developmental goals. A new policy approach involving the fundamental restructuring of the market is needed to remove the anti-competitive incentives that exist in the vertically integrated market structure that generally accompanies privatisation in developing countries. While a more horizontally structured market will not remove the incumbent advantage entirely, it is likely to reduce the need for constant adjustment of anti-competitive behaviour on the part of the incumbent, freeing up regulatory resources for more strategic regulation towards achieving national developmental objectives.

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    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Telecommunications Policy.

    Volume (Year): 29 (2005)
    Issue (Month): 7 (August)
    Pages: 469-491

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:telpol:v:29:y:2005:i:7:p:469-491
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