News that the country is growing its internet penetration at a much slower rate than any other country in Africa is a ‘wake-up call’ for the government and reflects the need to accelerate deregulation of the telecom market.

That’s according to William Stucke, Management Committee member at the Internet Service Providers’ Association of SA (ISPA). He says that the country’s dismal annual single-figure rate is an indictment of the government’s failed ‘managed liberalisation’ of the local telecom market.

Said Stucke: “The only country in the Africa and Indian Oceans region that is growing Internet penetration at a slower rate than South Africa is Reunion, which has twice our internet penetration. Growth in the South African market has stagnated over the past five years thanks to a lack of meaningful competition in the market.”

Internet growth statistics released in Hyderabad, India during the recent Internet Governance Forum Meeting show that South Africa has fallen a long way in the African internet rankings since 2000, when it had 2.4 million subscribers representing 53% of Internet users across the continent.

Today, South Africa represents only nine percent of Africa’s total Internet subscriber base with 5.1 million users.

Between December 2000 and 2008, South Africa has added only about 2.7 million new subscribers to its Internet user base, compared to the 10 million added by Nigeria, the 8 million added by Egypt, the 7 million added by Morocco and the 3 million added by Kenya.

“Over the past 10 years, the rest of Africa has grown its Internet subscriber base at 10 times the pace of rich, industrialised South Africa. We’re a long way off from having satisfactory Internet penetration, and must ask ourselves what has gone wrong.” said Stucke.

Across the rest of Africa, countries have stepped up the pace of deregulation and liberalisation of their telecom markets, while South Africa has treaded water, added Stucke.

“We must ask why government insisted on retaining ownership in the major telecommunication networks when it clearly hasn’t been in the best interests of the country and its citizens,” he said.

Up until recently, Telkom has had a legally-enforced stranglehold on South Africa’s international bandwidth, last mile infrastructure and leased lines that have made it difficult for other service providers to compete effectively.

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