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Cheaper, stable connectivity on the cards across SA

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 08 Aug 2022
Finance minister Enoch Godongwana.
Finance minister Enoch Godongwana.

Cheaper and stable digital telecommunication connectivity across South Africa is within sight, finance minister Enoch Godongwana said on Friday.

Godongwana provided an in-depth update on key government projects supported by Operation Vulindlela, saying affordable connectivity is on track after government completed auctioning of high-demand spectrum.

This, he said, will enable substantial new investment in the telecommunications sector, including the rollout of 5G networks.

Operation Vulindlela is a joint initiative of the Presidency and National Treasury, aimed at fast-tracking the delivery of structural economic reforms to unblock economic growth.

It was established in October 2020, to accelerate the implementation of structural reforms in five areas: energy, digital communications, water, transport and visa reform.

Since 2016, South Africans have been complaining about the high price of data through the #DataMustFall social media banner. This challenge, the minister said, will now be addressed through new investments as a result of spectrum allocation.

“In digital telecommunications, cheaper and better connectivity is in sight. The auction of high-demand spectrum has been completed and analogue switch-off has already been completed in five provinces,” he said.

On the switch-off of analogue transmission, which was due to be completed by the end of March, but was postponed by an order of the High Court to 30 June, the minister said a new date for analogue switch-off will be communicated.

“Government remains committed to completing digital migration as quickly as possible to release low-frequency spectrum. Government intends to provide a subsidised set-top box to any indigent households that have not yet migrated and complete switch-off in remaining provinces.

“The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies will shortly communicate a new date for analogue switch-off following consultations with stakeholders in the sector.”

To facilitate faster deployment of telecommunications infrastructure, Godongwana said the Rapid Deployment Policy and Policy Direction has been finalised for approval by Cabinet.

“We anticipate that a standard draft by-law for wayleave approvals will be adopted for rollout in municipalities by October 2022.”

The minister’s connectivity update comes on the back of growing desire by president Cyril Ramaphosa to develop new models to provide low-income households with affordable, high-speed internet.

With SA’s unemployment rate now reportedly among the highest in the world, Ramaphosa wants more people to participate in the ballooning digital economy, hence the need to accelerate affordable connectivity.

“It’s about connecting every corner of South Africa to the digital age. It’s about a rural community in Limpopo or Eastern Cape, where farmers can monitor weather across the province and market their produce across the globe. It’s about an entrepreneur with a great idea she hopes to sell to the supply chains of large companies,” the president said recently.

Energy roadmap

Turning to power cuts, Godongwana said improving Eskom’s energy availability factor is on track.

The Operation Vulindlela report says additional capacity will be made available in the short-term by allowing existing independent power producers (IPPs) to sell surplus power to Eskom.

“This will involve amending contracts with existing IPPs from previous bid windows to enable them to sell additional capacity. In addition, Eskom will procure power from existing private generators, such as mining companies and shopping malls which have installed solar panels and can supply their excess power to the grid, through a standard offer.”

It adds the Department of Minerals Resources and Energy is working closely with Eskom to ensure the necessary approvals are waived or granted to enable this approach.

Also, the report says, climate funding provided through the Just Energy Transition Partnership will be used to invest in the grid and repurpose decommissioned power stations.

“The first solar and battery storage projects at Komati, Majuba, Lethabo and several other power stations will result in over 500MW being added to the system.”