Budget speech boosts Sentech's hopes

Johannesburg, 25 May 2007

Sentech is bullish about securing funding for its planned wireless broadband network, as it moves to revise its business plans for the roll-out of the infrastructure, focusing more on remote areas where private sector players are absent.

Communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri yesterday made no mention of the funding in her department's budget vote speech, but Sentech is optimistic about being allocated the required money.

The government signal provider earlier this week said it was likely the minister would make an announcement relating to the funding, for which Sentech has been waiting since the directive to build the network was issued a year ago.

Government previously stated it needed to establish Sentech's competitive position opposite private sector companies before it would allocate money for the project. This probe, said communications department DG Lyndall Shope-Mafole in March, had been completed and it was up to National Treasury to release the cash.

In the meantime, Sentech has been unable to move on government's mandate, as it needs between R600 million and R1 billion for the project, expected to provide communications to underserviced areas.

However, Sentech media relations manager Pranill Ramchander reacted positively to the lack of news in the minister's speech, suggesting talks have been ongoing in the background.

New focus

"We are very confident now, more so after minister Matsepe-Cassaburri's speech, that we will get the funding we need," he said this morning.

Ramchander explains Sentech is revising its business plans for the roll-out of the wireless broadband infrastructure to be in line with the minister's reiteration of its role to provide communications infrastructure to drive e-government services.

It appears the minister has effectively narrowed Sentech's scope of broadband delivery in commercial areas, in favour of a focus on rural regions, an issue Ramchander refused to confirm.

Ramchander says Sentech will submit the new business plan to National Treasury for approval within a few weeks, with the hope of receiving the funding soon after.

"Previous delays were caused by concern that Sentech would compete unfairly in the commercial arena, and the revised business plan addresses that issue."

He says Sentech will be able to move quickly once the funding has been approved, but the challenge lies in the procurement of equipment, as it needs to be manufactured to specifications. "We hope that will not delay infrastructure roll-out."