SA 'not spending enough' on broadband

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Fast internet is becoming a reality in SA. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Fast internet is becoming a reality in SA. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town - South Africa's Internet Service Providers' Association (Ispa) has called on the government to spend more money on broadband as the country eyes the goal of universal access by 2020.

In his budget speech in February, Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene allocated R1.1bn to the expansion of broadband connectivity in the country. But government did not elaborate on the scope of the programme, which is expected to connect government institutions and schools.

"Ispa respectfully calls on the Finance Minister to spend the run-up to the medium term budget policy statement (mini budget) in October ironing out the details of government's currently vague and insubstantial commitment to boosting South Africa's broadband penetration," said Ispa chair Graham Beneke.

However, major broadband player Cisco has previously said that senior policy makers generally focus on broad strokes while the details are worked out in intensive processes.

"What gets stated at the state of the nation or budget speeches just skim the surface. You've really got to spend time with government in some of the more detailed workshops they have, and we have as Cisco," Vernon Thaver, chief technology officer at Cisco Systems South Africa told Fin24 earlier this year.

Internet access

But Beneke re-iterated themes in the South Africa Connect: Creating Opportunities, Ensuring Inclusion South Africa's Broadband Policy, which seeks to make broadband accessible to the majority of South Africans.

"Broadband is not a plaything for the well-off. Fast, affordable access to communication services and the internet is becoming a utility, as important for South Africa to function as water and power," Beneke said.

Smartphone use is driving up demand for data. (Duncan Alfreds, FIn24)

According to StatsSA, broadband cost remains a limiting factor in SA's drive to become an information society.

"Although mobile broadband packages are much cheaper than comparable ADSL or fixed broadband ones, South African prices are still considered expensive," says the GHS Series Volume VI Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) report.

The Department of Posts and Telecommunication's presentation to a Portfolio Committee has also previously indicated that broadband penetration in SA is at 17%, versus internet access at 48%.

Open access broadband

The department says that the "current market structure is inefficient, costly" and duplicates infrastructure in urban areas.

To meet the demand for broadband, a number of companies have embarked on programmes to expand services, though mainly in urban areas.

Beneke insisted that the most effective way to deliver accessible broadband is by ensuring that networks are open to multiple players.

"If government wants to get increasingly involved in establishing broadband networks, then Ispa would like to ensure that this was done on an open access basis and made available to ISPs (internet service providers) and other service providers to compete on."

Minister Siyabonga Cwele has also agreed with this sentiment expressed in national policy.

"The key thing will be avoiding duplication and having open access networks," he told a Parliamentary Portfolio committee recently.

Watch this online video where Cisco Systems SA CTO Vernon Thaver discusses whether the SA government is serious about broadband:

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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