By – SAnews.gov.za
Pretoria – Government is forging ahead with its plans to connect 22 million South Africans to the internet by 2020.
Known as ‘Internet for All’, the initiative is a partnership between the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services and its social partners, and the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The Internet for All South Africa Steering Committee will be launched in June, with the express aim of identifying areas with the highest need and channelling resources to provide skills in those areas.
Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele tabled this and other plans when he delivered his department’s Budget Vote in Cape Town on Wednesday.
“[The plan] focuses on extending ICT infrastructure to underserved areas, lowering the costs of being online and cheaper gadgets, digitising local content and providing ICT and digital skills.
“This partnership has youth ambassadors, who ensure that the interventions address challenges faced by the youth and to help with the awareness.
“Yesterday, we held an industry engagement wherein stakeholders pledged to train millions of young South Africans in various digital skills over the next few years,” the Minister said.
Minister Cwele said the Internet for All South Africa Steering Committee will coordinate all these training initiatives and monitor and track their implementation.
He said the goal of the initiative is to give people digital skills that will enable them to redefine their future and that of generations to come.
Minister Cwele said this is also an opportunity for the private sector to invest in their future by preparing future users of their services.
Transformation in ICT
Minister Cwele said the department aims to facilitate greater involvement of black people in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector.
He said the department also aims to open opportunities for small and medium sized enterprises owned by women, youth and people with disabilities.
The department has been allocated a budget of R1.6 billion, which will outline the priorities for the department over the next 12 months that are aimed at transforming this growing but concentrated industry.
He said the department’s priorities are informed by the National Development Plan and the Nine-Point Plan goals to reignite economic growth.
With regards to the state of broadband, Minister Cwele said the recent Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s report showed 3G coverage reaching about 99% and 4G rising to approximately 75% of the population.
“However, not all those who are covered have access to or are using internet, as only 53.4% of South African households have access to internet.
“The industry invested R28 billion in 2016 on general network improvements as well as fibre deployment in major urban areas,” said the Minister.
He said this has improved the department’s World Economic Forum (WEF) Network Readiness Index from 75th to 65th position in 2016, which measures the country’s propensity to exploit opportunities offered by ICT, and its impact on its competitiveness.
He said statistics show that progress is being made with regards to making the internet accessible to communities.
The City of Tshwane, City of Johannesburg and the City of Cape Town have the highest percentage of households with access to the internet by type of access.
“The open tender process by State Information Technology Agency (SITA) to find a service provider for the rollout of broadband in the eight priority districts unfortunately did not yield a successful bidder among those who participated, resulting in its cancellation in November 2016.
“We have since decided to utilise our state entities such as SITA, BBI and SENTECH, in line with their mandates, to implement this critical project. In the current financial year, we have been allocated R416 million to start connecting 2 700 sites,” said the Minister.
Minister Cwele has appealed to network operators to ensure the cost of data and voice calls falls to affordable levels.
“We are mindful that South Africans believe that data prices must fall, and according to the 2017 StatSA Report, ICTs contribute 3.0% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and constituted 4.6% of household expenditure,” he said.
Last year, the Minister issued a policy directive to ICASA to prioritise the commencement and conclusion of an inquiry and the prescription of regulations to ensure effective competition in broadband markets.
He said ICASA’s response suggests that it will finalise this work in the next two to three years.
He said ICASA’s State of ICT Report seems to suggest a lack of competition, particularly by dominant players.
“The report indicates that data traffic increased by 55%, data revenue increased from R30 billion to R38 billion, employment decreased by 4 000, yet prices remain sticky at the same level. This situation may need the attention of the Competition Commission,” said the Minister.