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

Financial Mail - Investors Monthly - - Budget 2017 - Thabiso Mochiko mochikot@bdlive.co.za

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.

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