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