Democratic Alliance MP Marian Shinn, who is also the party’s spokeswoman on telecommunications & postal services, has labelled the budget allocated to South Africa’s broadband roll-out plan, dubbed SA Connect, as “grossly inadequate”.
“R1,6 billion over the [medium-term expenditure framework] (MTEF) period (2016 to 2019) is little over R500m/year,” Shinn said.
“While the entire allocation is an extra R500m over last year’s original allocation, it is inadequate to the task to meet the objectives set out for the period of 5 803 government sites in eight municipalities by March 2019.”
Shinn said that although the department of telecoms & and postal services asked for R1,4bn for SA Connect in the MTEF from 2015 to2018, it was only allocated R739m by national treasury. I assume the first R200m that was earmarked for fiscal 2015/2016 has been unspent and rolled over into this new MTEF.”
Details of how this money is to be spent is unclear, she said. “The telecoms department has refused my requests via parliamentary questions to reveal these and said it will not release the work plan as this is a dynamic document and subject to frequent change in a rapidly changing ICT environment.
“But the provision of high-speed broadband connectivity to the identified eight municipalities will require substantial upgrades to the telecoms infrastructure in those areas,” she added.
Shinn said it is also “puzzling” that one of government’s infrastructure support programme objectives is the establishment of a wholesale open-access network by March 2018.
“According to SA Connect this network, envisioned as a private-public partnership, is key to delivering high-speed broadband to underserviced areas. Yet phases 1 and 2 of SA Connect are to be delivered before the network plan is completed, let alone operational. This indicates that whichever network wholesale company gets the business to install/upgrade the networks for phase 1 and 2 will gain a significant head-start and share of forming this partnership network,” she said.
“This would seem to be at odds with the finance minister’s undertaking that infrastructure roll-outs would be based on public-private partnerships. He spoke about ‘many opportunities for joint public and private investment and facilities management’ in energy, transport and telecoms.
“He also said ‘the strength of our state-owned companies does not lie in protecting their dominant monopoly positions, but in their capacity to partner’ with business investors.
“[The telecoms department] sees Telkom as a state-owned company, rather than a JSE-listed company, so joining the dots of the budget speech one gets the impression that government, by delaying the formation of the national broadband network, is likely to help Telkom use SA Connect to upgrade its rural network to give it an advantage over competitors in the formation and market reach of the network.” — © 2016 NewsCentral Media