Free Wi-Fi and Internet grants — South Africa’s big broadband plans

The South African government’s project to roll out free Wi-Fi and provide broadband subsidies throughout the country — dubbed SA Connect — is moving forward.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet approved the rollout of the second phase of the project towards the end of January 2022, and the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies is engaging with National Treasury to request funding for its implementation.

The department said it had already begun engaging with the National Treasury and that money for a broadband fund had also been requested.

“Funding has been requested from the National Treasury to establish the Broadband Fund with the objective to subsidise household connectivity and public Wi-Fi hotspots in low-income households and rural communities nationally,” it said in response to parliamentary questions.

“The Broadband Fund will be implemented under the SA Connect programme to leverage potential opportunities.”

The department said that the second phase “will consider connectivity of all government facilities in the country, including unconnected government facilities in the Western Cape and Gauteng”.

The Western Cape and Gauteng were not included in the first phase of the rollout as they had their own provincial broadband rollout projects underway.

Phase one served as a pilot programme and saw 10Mbps broadband services supplied to approximately 970 critical government facilities.

The first phase initially aimed to connect 6,135 facilities, but budget constraints meant the scope had to be reduced.

Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni recently said during the State of the Nation Debate that government would provide 10GB of free data for every household in South Africa, regardless of income.

“Data has become a new utility like water and electricity that our home needs,” Nthsavheni stated.

She also said that South Africa’s mobile network operators will be required to provide connectivity to 18,520 schools, 5,731 clinics and hospitals, and 8,241 offices of traditional leaders or traditional authorities that hold certificates of recognition.

Total sites connected is 970
Province District municipality Total facility planned Schools Health Government
EC OR Tambo 178 138 23 17
FS Thabo Mofutsanyane 171 99 23 49
KZN uMgungundlovu 142 78 10 54
KZN uMzinyathi 55 31 4 20
LIM Vhembe 75 46 5 24
MP Gert Sibande 142 62 14 66
NC Pixley Ka Seme 71 40 14 17
NW Dr Kenneth Kaunda 136 103 22 11
Total 970 597 115 238

Upon the approval of budget allocation, the implementation plan will then involve consultations with each Province to identify which municipalities will be prioritised for the rollout.

SA Connect aims to provide 80% broadband connectivity in communities and government facilities with a minimum speed of 10Mbps, and 100 Mbps for high-demand facilities such as Home Affairs.

The project was initially adopted in 2013 as part of South Africa’s broadband policy.

“The project forms part of government’s commitment to bridge the digital divide, especially in rural communities, and advance the digital economy,” Cabinet said during the Lekgotla and Special Cabinet Meeting of 27 and 28 January 2022.

“The participation of the private sector will also address the transformation of the sector by involving all relevant role players in the electronic network sector.”

The absence of sufficient internet connectivity at government facilities has been a source of frustration for many South Africans, particularly at institutes such as Home Affairs.

While upgrading the broadband infrastructure at Home Affairs could help, it is not a guaranteed solution to the lack of redundancy at most government offices across the country.

In mid-2021, the State IT Agency (Sita) revealed that Home Affairs only subscribed to a bronze service.

Sita explained that, as a result, many Home Affairs offices were still using a 2Mbps ADSL connection to access the Internet.

Without any “backup connections” for redundancy, these offices were often unable to serve citizens without access to the Internet.

Now read: Back to the Future — Ramaphosa’s big broadband promises

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Free Wi-Fi and Internet grants — South Africa’s big broadband plans