Mafias holding back better fibre networks in South Africa

Construction mafia groups, vandalism, adverse weather conditions, and South Africa’s volatile socio-political environment are some of the most significant factors holding back local fibre network growth.

According to Jacques de Villiers, MetroFibre head of fibre-to-the-home, “the construction mafia groups posing as community business forums” remain one of the most challenging obstacles to fibre rollout across South Africa.

Even though fibre network companies commit to job creation by cooperating with local councils and business forums in the areas they are installing, construction mafia groups still act as gatekeepers.

“There is huge concern about construction mafia groups who demand a cut in building projects around the country, sometimes even resorting to violence and intimidation to get their way,” said De Villiers.

Tactics used by these groups include sub-contracting demands, “protection fees”, and holding construction sites to ransom if their demands are not met.

Frogfoot’s sales and marketing head Shane Chorley has also stated that the difficulties with local councils, business forums, and vandalism inhibits fibre expansion into some areas.

De Villiers believes that a way to distinguish between legitimate efforts by people or groups who want to develop their areas to support local businesses versus the pure criminality of the construction mafia groups is vital to South Africa’s FTTH growth.

Jacques de Villiers, MetroFibre Networx head of fibre-to-the-home

Increased pressure on households due to the current economic climate and higher levels of unemployment has also hindered fibre rollout on a national level.

Besides being responsible for wreaking havoc across South African roads, the recent heavy and extended rainfall also significantly impacts fibre rollout, said De Villiers.

Despite these challenges, MetroFibre and Frogfoot still plan to expand their networks this year and going into 2023.

“MetroFibre Networx is also looking to reach underserved areas with unique solutions and packages that cater to customers who may only require intermittent use,” said De Villiers.

“A pay-as-you-go model would be more practical for customers who don’t need an ‘always on’ service.”

Even though the Covid-19 pandemic had far-reaching consequences on the economy, De Villiers said the work-from-home trend was a considerable driving force behind fibre network expansion.

Employees working from home need reliable, high-speed internet connections and have been looking to FTTH to fulfil that need.

“Here, we’re looking at affordable top-up packages that allow customers to pay only when they need it, removing the concern of lengthy contracts,” said De Villiers.

Shane Chorley, Frogfoot head of sales and marketing

MetroFibre intends to expand its fibre network to connect more than 100,000 houses this year and wants to see that number increase to more than 300,000 homes by 2024.

Frogfoot, on the other hand, expects FTTH roll-out to slow down due to financial feasibility constraints.

“We started with a strategy to get to smaller towns, which we feel we have achieved. We believe we have succeeded in getting homes and businesses in need of a better connectivity solution connected to world-class fibre,” Chorley said.

However, he also said that Frogfoot is keeping an eye out for opportunities.

“There are other areas that are being looked into based on additional factors and plans which may change at a later stage.”

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Mafias holding back better fibre networks in South Africa