Hundreds of millions for rural IT centres - TechCentral

Hundreds of millions for rural IT centres

Deputy communications minister Obed Bapela

Government will build 18 information and communications technology (ICT) hubs, two in each of SA’s nine provinces, over the next year as a way of bringing technology to SA’s rural poor.

The plan, which will cost several hundred million rand in its initial phase, will result in the construction of the centres, which will provide broadband Internet access and computing resources in traditionally underserviced areas. R180m is available for the project in the current financial year, which ends in March.

Communications deputy minister Obed Bapela tells TechCentral that the roll-out will form part of government’s broader ICT Rural Development Strategy, which it hopes to have finalised by the end of March. The strategy — basically a business plan for rural communications — will be presented to national treasury next year in the hope that money in the Universal Service Fund will be freed up for national projects.

National treasury controls access to the fund, into which telecommunications operators have contributed billions of rand over the years. The treasury has been reluctant to open the purse strings without a proper business plan. The fund contains between R2,7bn and R3,5bn, according to estimates.

Bapela says the department of communications wants to open a dialogue with Sentech, Broadband Infraco, Telkom, the provinces and municipalities about how best to bring broadband connectivity to rural areas. It will also meet with representatives from the private sector in January.

Already, Sentech has indicated it wants another stab at building a national wireless broadband network. “Sentech will be part of the integrated plan, so it’s not just them alone working on this,” Bapela says.

“Once the business case in consolidated and finalised, we want to move SA from 4% broadband penetration, where we are now, into the honourable double digits,” he says. “With this drive, we will begin to turn things around.”

Regarding the ICT hubs, Bapela says the aim is to have up to nine of them operational by the end of the financial year in March, with a further nine to be built after that.

The department will work closely with Universal Service Fund administrator, the Universal Service & Access Agency of SA, and the Independent Development Trust to build the centres.

A tender for project management services around the project closed last Friday and should be awarded soon, says Bapela. The successful bidder will manage the roll-out of the centres.  — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral

4 Comments

  1. In principal this is a good thing, but with myself having had to sort out computer problems at recently created rural “community centres” with internet access, I found that the computers had been used mainly for viewing porn, and were riddled with viruses to such an extent that the PCs were being used by outside hackers as relay hubs – in other words they steal the available bandwidth for their own nefarious purposes – so the PCs were running flat out even when nobody was using them, and internet speed was almost zero.
    So there needs to be some serious safeguards and supervision put in if these places are going to work. Personally, I don’t envisage that happening in the rural areas, unless it is somehow automated.

  2. wrinkly, why would anyone deploy computers without the correct control processes. you know the control should be on the ones that want to set up remote logging. I am sure you VPN already or are still doing it. How does it feel to yourself being expose of internet abuse.

  3. i believe its a good thing, but again it need to managed properly and communities need to take ownership of what is being built for them.

  4. The idea is to make life easy in rural areas. However the question of systems security must be considered as a high priority in order to safe guard such an investment from abuse by those who still have primitive thoughts. Rural development as far as ICT is concerned has been long over. Once implimented the communities will greatly bennefit from this initiative. Community ownership of such inestments will be very essential.
    We at Khula are currently monitoring one such innovation in the Eastern Cape.

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