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Govt mulls subsidised broadband access for low-income earners

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 16 Oct 2020
President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Government is developing new models to provide affordable, high-speed Internet to low-income households, which includes subsidised broadband.

President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement yesterday, when he presented SA’s economic recovery plan in Parliament.

The recovery plan is meant to stimulate the economy post-COVID-19, after the deadly virus blow devastated the economy.

More than two million people lost their jobs in the second quarter of this year, the economy contracted by 16.4% when compared to the previous quarter and National Treasury is expecting a significant shortfall in revenue collection.

As result, Ramaphosa says SA needs to focus on a “few high-impact interventions and ensure they are executed swiftly and effectively”.

The interventions include reducing data costs for “every South African” and expanding broadband access to low-income households.

“We are developing innovative new models to provide low-income households with access to affordable, high-speed Internet through connection subsidies for broadband and support for public WiFi hotspots,” said Ramaphosa.

“The release of high-frequency spectrum by March 2021 and the completion of digital migration will reduce data costs for firms and households. This process is being managed by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa and will promote transformation, reduce costs and increase access.”

The regulator recently set the ball rolling for a spectrum auction, which will be completed in the first quarter of next year.

Spectrum allocation is critical to SA in regards to the reduction of data prices which resulted in the #DataMustFall campaigns.

Since 2016, South Africans have been complaining about the high price of data through the #DataMustFall social media banner, and both the Competition Commission and ICASA initiated inquiries into data pricing.

Equally, mobile network operators Vodacom, MTN, Telkom and Cell C have been readying themselves to take advantage of the spectrum to strengthen and develop new services, such as 5G.

Another intervention outlined by the president is to rapidly expand energy generation capacity.

He said: We are accelerating the implementation of the Integrated Resource Plan to provide a substantial increase in the contribution of renewable energy sources, battery storage and gas technology.

“This should bring around 11 800MW of new generation capacity into the system by 2022. More than half of this energy will be generated from renewable sources.”

In the immediate term, Ramaphosa said, agreements will be finalised with independent power producers to connect over 2 000MW of additional capacity from existing projects by June 2021.