South Africa’s weak plan for broadband and data

By 2050, the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure envisions South Africa’s digital communications infrastructure to look exactly the same as it will in 2030.

This is based on the National Infrastructure Plan 2050 (NIP 2050), which the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure published for public comment on Tuesday.

NIP 2050 relies heavily on the National Development Plan (NDP) to set out its goals for digital communications in South Africa.

“The NDP envisages that, by 2030, a seamless information infrastructure should be universally available and accessible, at a cost and quality at least equal to South Africa’s peers and competitors,” states NIP 2050.

More specifically, by 2030, 100% of South Africa’s population should have easy access to affordable broadband of at least 10Mbps.

All government buildings should have high-speed broadband of 1Gbps, and where relevant participate in leveraging this to underserved areas and communities.

“There should be continuous improvement from thereafter,” NIP 2050 states.

It does not go into detail about what “continuous improvement” should look like, or how it will be achieved.

NIP 2050 acknowledges that South Africa is far off from achieving the NDP’s goals by 2021.

However, it also says that the 2030 goals must stay and that there is evidence of sufficient capacity to deliver on the NDP’s objectives if they are implemented through private-public cooperation.

The National Infrastructure Plan envisions that by 2050:

  • High-speed broadband will be universally accessible
  • Regulation will enable competitive and universally accessible broadband
  • Public sector capacity will be strong and able to drive the required policy agenda
  • Partnerships will be strong and there will be Centres of Digital Excellence promoting a growing knowledge base on delivery and innovation
  • The ICT skills base will be robust
  • Government services and buildings will be digitally enabled
  • Private sector participation in achieving universal broadband access will be prevalent

NIP 2050 sets out a list of steps that need to be taken in the next three years to ensure South Africa’s 2030 goals are met.

Some of the three-year action steps mentioned in NIP 2050 are as follows:

  • Digital migration will be concluded and spectrum will be released in 2021/2.
  • Digital migration must take place before relevant spectrum is auctioned and/or paid for.
  • South Africa’s spectrum auction will be done with careful attention to competition objectives.
  • Rapid deployment policy for electronic communications networks and facilities will be concluded in 2021/2.
  • Executive leadership of government departments, entities, and regulator responsible for digital delivery will be stabilised and appointed according to capability.
  • Review of approach to wholesale regulation and service provision will be done by 2021/2.
  • 80% of public buildings, especially schools, health facilities and police will be connected by 2023/4.
  • High-speed broadband will be available and accessible in every community by 2023/4.
  • There will be consideration of free basic data for low-income users, similar to that for water and electricity.
  • At least 80% of schools are connected by December 2022.
  • Data centre strategy finalised in 2021/2
  • Satellite communications strategy finalised in 2021/2.
  • Implementation begins 2022/3.
  • SKA regional digital rollout strategy finalised in 2021/2.

Written submissions regarding NIP 2050 should reach the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure on or before 17 September 2021.

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South Africa’s weak plan for broadband and data