The South African National Broadband Forum will hand over a proposed broadband policy framework to the new minister of communications at the first sitting of Parliament after the South African elections of 22 April 2009, to emphasise the importance of high-speed Internet access to all South Africans as a "national priority".
The Forum is a coalition of four organisations which share the common goal of creating cheaper and affordable access for South African citizens, namely the Shuttleworth Foundation, SANGONeT, South Africa Connect, and the Association for Progressive Communications (APC).
A draft framework has been developed with input from business, non-profit and education stakeholders and serves as a basis to build a comprehensive all-inclusive broadband strategy to boost economic and social development, and in particular education in South Africa.
Steve Song, Telecommunications Fellow at The Shuttleworth Foundation, says the election of a new government provides an opportunity to look at the policy framework with a fresh approach.
"Around the world governments are moving from centralised, hierarchical structures to more responsive and interactive modes of operation that are enabled through affordable broadband access," he says.
Unfortunately, Song says, for the last five years the telecommunications industry has provided very little growth in the economy because the South African Government has failed in its liberalisation efforts. Progress was marred by politics, cronyism and infighting, which stifled competition at the cost of the consumer.
"As we transition into a new Government, we see the opportunity to mobilise public opinion of all sectors of society to communicate that broadband is a critical requirement for South Africa’s development.
"All South Africans should have affordable broadband access to the Internet. In fact, broadband should be recognised as an essential right, in line with other basic infrastructure such as water, sewerage and electricity," says Song.
The Forum proposes that current fibre and wireless broadband infrastructure in urban and rural areas should be maximised in an equitable and environmentally responsible manner by operators.
It proposes that high-speed broadband access will in turn stimulate the creation of commerce and digital broadband content by content providers, such as educators, so that Government’s mandate of affordable learning and teaching can be fully realised. Other sectors, such as health care, government services and job creation will also benefit.
The South African National Broadband Forum says that it aims to see affordable broadband access in every town and village in South Africa by 2014, to claim its place as number one in terms of broadband penetration on the continent.
The strategy document can be read, and signed in support, on the Forum’s website at http://www.broadband4africa.org.za/broadband_framework. Signatures will be included in the hard copy of the document handed to the minister of communications.