In the wake of Wednesday’s (14/02/2018) regime change that saw former president Jacob Zuma and his keepers finally backed in to a corner, the South African streets are filled with electricity and hope for a brighter future as the warm smile of Cyril Ramaphosa ushers in the chance of a much brighter future for us all.
With almost a decade of damage control for the new president to deal with in the coming months, we wait with baited breath to get a better look at what the successful businessman has planned for our future; and after all the silent suffering we faced during the Zuma era, our country is finally expecting some good things to come our way. Still, the task of mopping up and finishing unfinished and mismanaged tasks left by the previous administration is a colossal one. One such area concerns our development into the digital age, which in all honesty, has barely been touched on in a South African context where end-users and civilians have fallen by the wayside in favour of draining money from businesses.
Mobile and email scams have frolicked freely through our digital domains, exorbitant connection and data rates as well as poor service delivery have characterised even the best of our internet service providers, and our communications infrastructure falls far behind some of the least developed countries in the world. Our privacy is disrespected, our personal information sold on to lead generating sweat-shops that call from unregistered numbers in an environment where everything needs to be RICAd. Regulation is too relaxed in many cases and for some reason we still have expensive services for shaped and capped connections; and these are just the issues dealing with service provision and infrastructure; we haven’t even touched on the state of our communications industry as a whole. But South Africans have grown used to the current state of things, we think it is normal; while the rest of the world sales past us at high speeds that come at less of a cost and are available on a much larger scale.
Quite frankly we should be angry, infuriated and disappointed by what has passed for an acceptable national communications policy; and I’m even speaking from the vantage point of a sect of the South African society that has the easiest time gaining access to communications infrastructure; what hope then do those living and studying in rural areas have? In the face of the coming change, hopefully a much better one.
Still, if the issues of our network infrastructure are to be addressed, our country, and government in particular, will need to pay close attention to a number of areas:
Telecommunications needs Healthier Competition
Perhaps one of the main reasons why we are falling behind in the digital sphere is that there simply isn’t enough competition out there to compel internet service providers to up their game in a way that better suits the needs and budgets of their consumers. Whether through fibre, LTE, broadband or mobile data, South Africa has some of the highest tariffs in the world, and by a long shot. We are simply paying too much for services which are rarely even mediocre, because we don’t have any competitive choices.
Service delivery and available data packages also leave something to be desired, both in their pricing and quality. 20megabit speeds are a standard in other parts of the world, representing some of the most affordable connection solutions available to them; while over here, many households are paying a fortune for 1megabyte lines that are inconsistent, unsecure and unreliable. In fact, in many cases, that mere 1mb is being shared across multiple account holders who are getting a pathetic fraction of what they are overpaying for.
Customer relations from these service providers also deserves a staggering amount of criticism, and it simply comes down to not enough competition to warrant trying harder. A quick Google search of a handful of our local service providers shows reviews of overwhelming dissatisfaction with client services, support and billing procedures that treat customers like forgettable numbers.
There also needs to be a more competitive market with regards to research and development into new and innovative ways to provide these services. South Africans are in a state of excitement over the introduction of fibre lines, while other countries (some of which are in worse economical positions than ourselves) have been surfing the web through fibre lines for years now, and at much less of a cost. To put this in perspective, consider that the average internet user in South Korea does so from a 100mb line; whereas here, that pleasure is reserved almost exclusively for businesses since only they can afford it.
We also need to foster a better culture of trust between service providers and their subscribers, and this won’t happen until we feel like we are getting a fair deal. At the moment we enter into contracts begrudgingly, almost expecting to have to fight for the services we are paying for, regardless of who the provider is. In such an environment, only mistrust can flourish, which is bad for the South African communications industry as a whole.
Increasing Network Infrastructure
One of the biggest challenges to the communications industry in our country, concerns the availability and spread of the infrastructure needed to provide connectivity to the masses. Network infrastructure is collected mainly around cities and residential areas where it is profitable to have them placed, while massive sects and rural areas struggle with basic phone signal.
Arguably, in this day and age, access to the internet should be considered a basic human right, though with the infrastructure currently available to us, this goal is little more than a pipe-dream.
Solutions to this problem may well take months, even years to come to fruition, and so we need to put a long-term goal in place. Starting not only with infrastructural development, we also need to concentrate on developing individual skills so that our future in the digital age can be more-or-less secured. Getting such an endeavour right will be no small task, and will require the combined efforts of government agencies, independent committees, as well as internet service providers.
By making access available to everyone, we could empower massive sects of the population who currently have limited access to information, education and news.
Expanding Business through Digital
From the side of government, there needs to be more consistent, codified and properly enforced policies that regulate the use of, and delivery of connections to the internet. More stringent policies for protecting the privacy and security of consumers, businesses and agencies also need to be implemented to ensure that the web can be surfed safely by users.
Policies that protect business interests and online integrity also need to be developed on a continual basis, while those involved in the communications industry should be trained and provided with the essential skills necessary for facilitating a fairer and more transparent marketplace.
The infrastructure should also be put in place that allows all businesses to leverage digital mediums for their marketing and communications purposes to the best effect, with minimal interference and in such a way that stands up to the best practices of digital communication.
Lastly, closer attention needs to be paid to the protection of consumers who often fall prey to online scams and phishing schemes which may have devastating financial effects on them, while also putting mechanisms in place that hold guilty parties accountable wherever malpractice is found.
We still have some way to go before we have the ideal digital terrain in our fair country, but for the first time in nearly a decade it looks like we might actually be on the right path. Though as the situation gets more beneficial all-round, now is the time to take charge of the resources available to you and your business with regards to the digital domain. Contact Right Click Media today to find out more about how we can help to grow your business through carefully planned and conducted digital marketing strategies tailored to your business and target audience; or feel free to visit our website to learn more about our SEO, web development, social marketing and mobile application development services.