President Cyril Ramaphosa should consider designating the provision of fibre infrastructure as a municipal service to ensure poorer and more rural parts of the country get access.
This is a proposal contained in a briefing note to the president by the Presidential Economic Advisory Council and comes ahead of Ramaphosa’s state of nation speech on 10 February.
“Go where there is no fibre,” the advisory council said. “There is a need to prioritise areas with limited communal and household access to connectivity, which are primarily the poorer municipal areas in many of the country’s rural provinces.”
By designating fibre as a municipal service, rural district municipalities, in particular, “could, where appropriate, enter into public-private partnerships for the provision of fibre where the private sector doesn’t find it profitable”.
“This could also possibly be a revenue source for municipalities,” the council said in the briefing note.
“There is also scope in these areas, within the roll-out and under the auspices of the Presidential Employment Initiative, for the ‘design’ of municipal-level public employment programmes to have an embedded digital economy element, such as training work seekers in digital networking, backend Wi-Fi management, and portal and design skills.”
The advisory council has proposed other interventions in the ICT space to grow the economy, including completing the licensing of spectrum and encouraging the roll-out of networks using television white-spaces spectrum (TVWS) – utilising the gaps between television broadcasts to offer Internet services.
“The auction of telecoms spectrum has the potential to raise significant funds for the fiscus, allow for equitable participation by new participants in the sector and expand low-cost access to high-speed connectivity for a wide cross-section of the South African public,” the council said in its note.
“Consultative mechanisms should be sought with the objective of heading off the legal challenges to the auction of spectrum which have emerged in recent weeks. Despite agreement by Nedlac partners (government, labour, business and community organisations) on the urgent need for telecoms reform, litigation initiated by business entities with vested interests in the sector is threatening to delay and derail the process.”
Government should also consider rolling out wireless “hotspots” nationwide to connect more than a million people to the Internet, the advisory council said. This could be achieved by opening up TVWS technology and resolving any remaining regulatory issues that are blocking the commercial deployment of these networks.
If investments are not made in bringing high-quality Internet to those without access, “the widening digital divide will become a key driver of South African inequality”, the council warned. – © 2022 NewsCentral Media