DFA gets R12.3m US backing in rural SA fibre drive

Dark Fibre Africa (DFA) has received $901 188 (R12.3 million) grant funding from the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), to conduct a feasibility study to support the company’s efforts to expand reliable and affordable Internet access and digital services to underserved populations living outside of SA’s major urban centres.

USTDA is an agency that links US businesses to export opportunities by funding project preparation and partnership-building activities that develop sustainable infrastructure and foster economic growth in partner countries.

DFA is an open-access fibre infrastructure and connectivity provider in SA. It finances, builds, installs, manages and maintains a fibre network to transmit metro and long-haul telecommunications traffic.

It started rolling out its fibre network in 2007, and to date, has deployed over 14 000km of ducting infrastructure in major metros, secondary cities and smaller towns.

“USTDA has a strong record of supporting South Africa’s top infrastructure priorities, and this is particularly the case in the information and communications technology sector, where US companies offer high-quality, innovative solutions,” says Enoh T Ebong, USTDA’s acting director.

“Our partnership with DFA reflects USTDA’s commitment to bridge South Africa’s digital divide through partnership with American industry.”

The USTDA-funded study will evaluate the technical and economic viability of expanding DFA’s fibre network into peri-urban and rural areas, as well as modelling sustainable business cases and scenarios for delivering connectivity infrastructure for customers in these markets.

Responding to ITWeb on why fibre networks have shunned peri-urban and rural areas in previous years, DFA and USTDA say one of the biggest obstacles to infrastructure development – and economic growth – in rural areas is the lack of funding for project preparation.

They note that rural connectivity, in particular, presents technical and financial challenges that require innovative solutions and careful, detailed planning.

“USTDA’s grant funding will help DFA address these challenges and support a business case that will encourage investment. USTDA is proud to partner with DFA to help achieve president [Cyril] Ramaphosa's goal of improving rural connectivity throughout South Africa.

“We look forward to similar opportunities to support the development of secure, reliable and affordable communications networks in South Africa and elsewhere around the world, utilising high-quality US goods and services,” the US-based agency says.

Vino Govender, chief strategy, M&A and innovation officer at DFA.

DFA is looking to expand its network to peri-urban and rural areas in more than 20 districts across the country.

Says Todd Haskell, chargé d’affaires of the US Mission in SA: “The US government is committed to building stronger ties between South Africa and the United States through the work of agencies like USTDA.

“We recognise the transformative impact that digital connectivity can have on the South African people, which is why we are fully supportive of this initiative. Investing in secure and reliable connectivity will also strengthen the resiliency of South Africa’s economy.”

“USTDA’s feasibility study will help shape how we extend Internet access and digital infrastructure to the less-connected,” says Vino Govender, chief strategy, M&A and innovation officer at DFA.

“We are taking a holistic approach. By aggregating demand for digital services using shared infrastructure, we believe we can create a business case for connecting customers in underserved areas.”

The US agency says this project supports Access Africa, USTDA’s initiative to support the development of inclusive, secure and sustainable ICT across Africa, and the US government’s Prosper Africa initiative to substantially increase two-way trade and investment between the US and Africa.

"DFA's network expansion is predominantly based on customer demand, balanced against the cost of investment,” USTDA tells ITWeb via e-mail.

“Hence, one of the key purposes of the research is to derive the aggregated demand that will drive the investment; the investment quantum, as well as the supply and demand side incentives for making such investments technically and commercially viable,” it concludes.

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