Crime, corruption, and extortion are hampering fibre network rollouts in South Africa, with poor communities being hit the hardest.
The is the word from South African fibre network operators, who told MyBroadband they continue to suffer at the hands of gangs and crime syndicates.
These fibre operators spoke to MyBroadband on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation by these crime syndicates.
While fibre network operators who operate networks in cities and middle-class neighbourhood are not often affected, those operating in townships and rural areas are often targeted.
The worst-hit areas are Kwazulu-Natal, townships in Gauteng, and lower-income areas like Bishop Lavis in Cape Town.
Criminals preventing fibre rollouts
Criminals and gangs often prevent fibre network operators from rolling out networks or fixing network infrastructure unless they get a kickback.
There have also been reports of councillors soliciting bribes from network operators to ensure they get wayleave permissions. Unless bribes are paid, network rollouts stop.
One operator told MyBroadband the situation became so bad that it does not use any branded vehicles or branded clothing when its staff has to do work in townships.
He said criminal gangs target fibre operators which try to roll out networks – both to steal their equipment and belongings and to solicit bribes from these companies.
Criminals becoming violent
One operator said these criminals are becoming so violent and dangerous that in some cases it had to completely stop rollouts in these regions.
“The reality is that there are factions and informal groups that are looking to exploit the investments that network providers are making,” the company said.
“It is, more often than not, isolated suburbs or communities, where criminal activity is rife, that are affected.”
This means that these communities, who are in desperate need of fast and affordable Internet access, are left stranded because of criminal activity.
The criminals are therefore depriving these communities of access to fibre and preventing them from breaking the cycle of poor education and poverty.
Crime breaks the business case for fibre
Where crime, corruption, and extortion are present in an area, it becomes difficult for fibre network operators to build a business case for network rollouts.
An operator explained that the costs required when they face crime or extortion is sometimes too high to continue with fibre builds.
Apart from the additional safety measures which are needed to roll out a network, maintenance is often dangerous in these areas.
Operators have even been forced to abandon projects where they have already invested in part of the network to ensure the safety of its employees.
These safety concerns often break the business case for fibre rollouts and leave the community without fibre access.