Cheaper broadband for South Africa: Minister

The government is planning a number of supply and demand-side broadband interventions in South Africa to address the gap between those who have access to digital services, and those who don’t.

This is according to Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele, who was speaking at Telkom’s annual Southern Africa Telecommunications Networks and Applications Conference (Satnac) in Port Elizabeth on Monday, 1 September 2014.

In his presentation, Cwele said that an infrastructure gap-analysis study has indicated that there is a gap between the high-capacity backbone and access to network infrastructure.

“This gap is biggest in rural areas and in particular in former homeland states where the most marginalised communities live,” Cwele said. “There are also some urban areas with high population densities that remain unserved.”

The real gap: South Africa’s local loop

Siyabonga Cwele
Siyabonga Cwele

However, the real gap is in the last-mile or “local loop” infrastructure, Cwele said.

He said that there is considerable duplication and potential under-exploitation of infrastructure in metropolitan areas because these areas were commercially attractive to service providers.

“If this situation is not addressed, the gap between those who have access to services and those who don’t will increase, and, consequently, impede true economic growth,” Cwele said.

To address this gap — also called the digital divide — Cwele said that the government had found it necessary to consider a range of interventions on both the demand and supply-side of broadband.

Supply side interventions to encourage investment and rollout of infrastructure include:

  • Support for public/private investment initiatives
  • Increased competition
  • Expansion of core and access networks
  • Enablement of infrastructure sharing
  • Promotion of coordinated build programmes
  • Allocation of prime spectrum to support universal access

To complement the supply chain, Cwele said that the government has also determined a number of demand-side interventions.

These seek to stimulate the uptake and usage of broadband services and products:

  • Increased affordability of services and devices
  • Aggregation of government demand to enhance procurement
  • Alignment of regulatory framework
  • Development of ICT skills and e-literacy
  • Development of local content, applications
  • Stimulation of niche manufacturing

“Government’s intention is to invest in broadband infrastructure through aggregation of public sector demand and smart procurement of high capacity networks,” Cwele said.

Jan Vermeulen is a guest of Telkom at SATNAC 2014

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Cheaper broadband for South Africa: Minister