R1.9bn earmarked for high-speed Internet rollout

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Pretoria, 22 Feb 2017
Budget 2017 ups the funds for broadband rollout to support economic growth.
Budget 2017 ups the funds for broadband rollout to support economic growth.

To provide ubiquitous Internet access in the country, National Treasury has allocated R1.9 billion over the medium-term for broadband implementation.

This is according to finance minister Pravin Gordhan, who tabled Budget 2017 in Parliament today.

Last year, Gordhan allocated R1.6 billion over the medium-term expenditure framework period to extend broadband access in SA.

The minister pointed out this year's budget prioritises both national and provincial economic infrastructure requirements, of which broadband rollout is an integral part.

"The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services receives R1.9 billion over the medium-term to invest in high-speed Internet connections in public buildings and schools in eight National Health Insurance pilot districts," he said.

A National Treasury official, who cannot be named due to the department's policy, confirmed the R1.9 billion will be used to implement phase one of SA Connect.

SA Connect is government's ambitious national broadband policy that was adopted in 2013, and aims to deliver widespread broadband access to 90% of the country's population by 2020, and 100% by 2030.

Due to the magnitude of the project, government decided it should be implemented in two stages: phase one and phase two.

Some of the funds will be used for planning for phase two of the project, according to the official.

The Estimates of National Expenditure document states that over the medium-term, the telecoms department will expand and modernise ICT infrastructure by implementing the SA Connect broadband policy, coordinating the migration to digital broadcasting and implementing the legislative framework stemming from the 2016 National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper.

It reads: "The department's broadband policy places emphasis on ensuring connectivity in underserviced areas, prioritising schools, health facilities and other government institutions.

"A key focus of the department over the medium-term will be on project managing and coordinating the implementation of the first phase of the SA Connect broadband policy by rolling out broadband services to an estimated 6 135 government institutions and 4 983 schools."

Getting into gear

In the 2015 State of the Nation Address, president Jacob Zuma declared that year "the year of broadband" in the hope that phase one of SA Connect would take off.

However, issues such as limited funds, pushing back deadlines, waiting for the State IT Agency (SITA) to appoint a lead agency, and SITA subsequently unexpectedly cancelling the tender for a service provider, have all mired rollout of the project.

Following the cancellation of the tender, the telecoms department finally broke its silence regarding the implementation of phase one of SA Connect last month.

The department noted it is exploring alternative mechanisms within the provisions of the law to see the project through.

Earlier this month, it was announced the OR Tambo District Municipality in the Eastern Cape kicked-off the first phase of the broadband rollout project in two local municipalities in the district.

The Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA), which reports to the telecoms department, confirmed broadband rollout in the OR Tambo district.

According to USAASA, it issued a once-off subsidy to Brightwave Technologies to construct and extend broadband infrastructure and provide services in the King Sabata Dalindyebo (KSD) Local Municipality and Mhlontlo Local Municipality, which are part of the OR Tambo District Municipality.

This has resulted in site installation to 22 health facilities and 31 education facilities in the KSD municipality and site installation to 13 health facilities in Mlontlo local municipality, says the agency.