Broadly speaking, it’s a start
Industry welcomes funding, but laments the little priority given to ICT/broadband by the state, particularly in the rural areas where there is a dire need for technology to facilitate delivery of most basic services
Government has allocated R1.9bn for the first phase of its broadband infrastructure programme — an amount described by a technology executive as reflecting “the low priority given by the state to ICT/broadband”.
The broadband project, SA Connect, is intended to deliver broadband access to all South Africans in the coming years. By 2020, government wants a universal broadband penetration at a minimum speed of 2mbps (megabits/second).
Broadband has been described as an accelerator of economic and social development but SA has suffered in recent years because of the lack of broadband access in many areas, especially rural communities. Mobile network operators have spent billions of rand on expanding wireless high-speed network infrastructure but most of the effort has gone into urban and semiurban areas.
In future, the department of telecommunications & postal services’ policy will place more emphasis on underserviced areas, prioritising schools, health facilities and other government institutions.
A key focus over the medium term will be on project management and co-ordinating implementation of the first phase of SA Connect by rolling out broadband services to an estimated 6,135 government institutions and 4,983 schools, the department says.
Roll-out has been delayed since the policy was published in 2014. Reasons have included technical procurement issues and a failed State Information Technology Agency tender process. The first phase finally started mid-February at the OR Tambo district municipality in the Eastern Cape. Driven by the Universal Service & Access Agency of SA (Usaasa), health services and schools in two municipalities in the area will be connected to a high-speed telecommunications network.
The municipality was named by President Jacob Zuma in his 2015 state of the nation address as one of eight prioritised for the first roll-out phase.
“This project will address many of the challenges experienced by local government, local business and citizens of the municipalities.
The project will provide voice and highspeed data connectivity services,” Usaasa said in a statement.
Executive mayor Nomakhosazana Meth says the project will improve government service through efficient delivery and facilitate the avail- ability of specialised applications such as eHealth for local clinics and hospitals, e-Education for teachers and learners, e-Agriculture for local farmers to gain access to agricultural markets and e-Commerce for small and medium enterprises.
BMI-TechKnowledge MD Denis Smit says the R1.9bn budget allocation is very small in relation to the true costs of rolling out SA Connect and “reflects the low priority given by the state to ICT/broadband in general compared to other, more pressing service delivery demands”. In February 2016, the cost of the project was estimated at R67bn.
The first phase will be managed by state entities. For the second phase, government plans to raise funds through a partnership with the private sector, says telecommunications & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele.
Meanwhile, state-owned broadcasting signal distributor Sentech will get R193m to provide analogue and digital signals to broadcasters.
SA’s migration to digital broadcasting has been delayed for various reasons, the latest being a court dispute between communications minister Faith Muthambi and broadcaster e.tv over whether set-top boxes should have an encryption system. The case was heard on Tuesday at the constitutional court and judgment is pending. The boxes will be used to receive the digital signal.
The migration to digital will free up the telecoms spectrum needed for the rollout of a super-fast mobile wireless network.
The SA Post Office is set to receive R240m in the 2017/2018 financial year to distribute about 1.8m set-top boxes given free to indigent households. Government has prioritised communities close to other countries with set-top boxes.
Spending on digital migration activities, including dual broadcasting on analogue and digital, is expected to amount to R1.3bn over the medium term.