The market has failed to deliver broadband to all South Africans, hence government’s decision to intervene, naming Telkom as the lead agency for broadband roll-out in underserviced areas, telecommunications & postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele said on Monday.
“We have taken a deliberate decision to intervene in the roll-out of broadband to bring services to the poor and to close the digital divide,” Cwele said in a statement.
“If we fail to extend broadband services to the poor, the effect would be worse than apartheid. Scars caused by this exclusion would be permanent and very deep,” he said.
President Jacob Zuma announced during the state of the nation address in February that government would pilot connecting government facilities in eight poor district municipalities to fast and reliable Internet as part of a first phase of the implementation of its broadband plan, called South Africa Connect.
“The announcement sets in motion a number of activities that seek to address the market failure in the roll-out of broadband,” Cwele said.
“Throughout the country, broadband infrastructure is deployed in a manner that is skewed towards the rich. There are instances wherein one community would enjoy access to cutting edge broadband technology and another, merely separated by a street, has to make do with inferior technology. Quiet often, you find this pattern repeating itself as both public and private companies duplicate infrastructure in the well-off communities, to the exclusion of poor communities.”
Cwele said phase one of the roll-out would connect health facilities, schools and other government institutions in Dr Kenneth Kaunda in North West, Gert Sibande in Mpumalanga, OR Tambo in the Eastern Cape, Pixley ka Seme in the Northern Cape, Thabo Mofutsanyane in the Free State, Umgungundlovu and Umzinyathi in KwaZulu-Natal and Vhembe in Limpopo.
“We also want to pilot the greater use of technology to improve the efficiency of the services we deliver,” he said. “This roll-out will be accompanied by the requisite training to ensure that officials are able to use the technology that is available to them to improve the efficiency of their work and the quality of service experienced by the citizens.
“These municipalities were identified to have the greatest need and, working with national treasury, funds have been set aside for the roll-out of broadband this year. The sites also coincide with the pilot sites for the National Health Insurance,” he added.
Cwele said the private sector had a role to play in bridging the digital divide. “We’ll continue to engage it and discuss areas where it should direct its investment. These consultations will also consider possible incentives for investing in underserviced areas.”
On government’s decision to name Telkom as the lead agency for the roll-out, Cwele said: “President Zuma also announced that Government has decided to designate Telkom as the lead entity, among other government agencies, to rollout fixed broadband. The decision was taken because we want to accelerate the roll-out of broadband. Telkom has the most extensive infrastructure in the country compared to other public and private sector players. Furthermore, the current infrastructure roll-out by both public and private sector players is fragmented, leads to duplication of efforts and resources, and is not expanding connectivity to uneconomic and underserved rural areas and townships. It is therefore necessary for government to facilitate the extension of optic-fibre infrastructure for the benefit of all South Africans and other industry players through the establishment of an integrated national broadband network.
“The roll-out of optic fibre infrastructure will be central to the future use of broadband in an interconnected society and economy because it is more reliable and capable of delivering faster speeds. South Africa Connect sets a target of broadband access at 10Mbit/s for all South Africans by 2030 and at 100Mbit/s for 80% of the population that same year. We need optic-fibre infrastructure to be able to efficiently deliver on mission critical services such as health. The use of other technologies such as satellite and wireless will ensure speedy roll-out while also ensuring connectivity to areas that are hard to reach through optic fibre due to the terrain.
“These are some of the considerations that informed the decision to designate Telkom as the lead entity in the roll-out of broadband.
“The designation of Telkom also moves us towards the creation of an open-access network. This network will usher in an era of services-based competition instead of infrastructure-based competition. We anticipate that such a dispensation will lead to more effective competition between operators and, over time, lower prices for consumers.” — © 2015 NewsCentral Media