President Cyril Ramaphosa in parliament ahead of his first state of the nation address since the 2019 general elections. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
President Cyril Ramaphosa in parliament ahead of his first state of the nation address since the 2019 general elections. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Within the next month, the government will issue a policy directive to the communications regulator to commence with the licensing of high-demand spectrum, as it moves to tackle the high cost of data.

The high cost of communication in SA has largely been blamed on a lack of competition and the "spectrum crunch". Spectrum refers to the radio signals set aside to carry data over the air, including for mobile phones, TV and global positioning systems (GPSs).

This is a limited resource largely controlled by the government. The release of additional spectrum will be key in terms of diversifying and boosting competition in the telecommunications sector and reducing the cost of data.

In his state of the nation address (Sona) on Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government will expand the hi-tech industry by ensuring that the legal and regulatory framework promotes innovation, by scaling up skills development for young people in new technologies and reducing data costs.

“Wherever we have gone, young people have continuously raised the issue of the excessive high data costs in SA. To provide impetus to this process, within the next month, the minister of communications will issue the policy direction to Icasa to commence the spectrum-licensing process,” Ramaphosa said.

This process will include measures to promote competition, transformation, inclusive growth of the sector and universal access.

“This is a vital part of bringing down the costs of data, which is essential both for economic development and for unleashing opportunities for young people. We call on the telecommunications industry further to bring down the cost of data so that it is in line with other countries in the world,” the president said.

He also said government was looking to prepare young people for the jobs of the future.

“This is why we are introducing subjects like coding and data analytics at a primary school level … We want an SA with a hi-tech economy where advances in e-health, robotics and remote medicine are applied as we roll out the national health insurance.”

In April, Ramaphosa appointed members of a presidential commission on the fourth industrial revolution to recommend policies, strategies and plans to position SA as a competitive player in the digital space. Ramaphosa will chair the commission, which includes academics and ICT industry leaders.

Several studies have shown that the fourth industrial revolution — which involves a fusion of artificial intelligence (AI) and automated machines — has the potential to disrupt every industry.

A recent McKinsey report projected that by 2030, at least one- third of the activities of 60% of occupations could be automated.

Another study by global consultancy firm Accenture found that close to six-million jobs in SA would be at risk over the next seven years due to automation. The study highlighted that both blue- and white-collar jobs were at risk. These occupations include those of clerks, cashiers, bank tellers, construction workers, mining and maintenance staff.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za