SA Connect: Another year, another moving target

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 22 Feb 2019
Government again sets an SA Connect intention to deliver widespread broadband access.
Government again sets an SA Connect intention to deliver widespread broadband access.

The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) says its new implementation model for SA Connect will result in the provision of broadband services to 970 government sites by the 2021/2022 financial year.

The DTPS noted this in the Estimates of National Expenditure (ENE) document, handed out to mark the 2019 National Budget Speech, stating it will focus on ensuring phase one of the broadband policy is realised.

SA Connect is government's ambitious project, which aims to deliver widespread broadband access to 90% of the country's population by 2020, and 100% by 2030.

Government is also looking to the project to meet the technology goals of the National Development Plan (NDP). As part of the NDP, government has undertaken to connect its offices across the country, starting in the rural areas, to ensure South Africans have access to the most modern communication tools and services.

In terms of phase one, Connect SA aims to connect all schools, health facilities, government offices, Thusong Centres and post offices, in eight rural district municipalities, to broadband services.

However, progress with the big broadband push has been limited and characterised by various uncoordinated initiatives.

The DTPS, which is handling the project, says after delays arising from concerns about the policy's procurement model, a new model was developed in 2017 in collaboration with the State IT Agency (SITA) and Broadband Infraco.

"Over the medium-term, the State IT Agency will focus on connecting government as part of the SA Connect broadband policy, and addressing long-standing service delivery and internal inefficiency challenges by implementing revised business and operating models.

"This will be done in the context of the agency being repositioned by the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services to provide services to government in a reliable, efficient and cost-effective manner."

Meanwhile, in the full budget review document, National Treasury says funds to be allocated for phase two of SA Connect will be confirmed in the 2020 budget, after the DTPS completes the detailed institutional framework required for the second phase.

"The provisional allocation for SA Connect phase two requires an implementation model to rollout broadband to public buildings."

SA Connect timeline:

  • In 2013, government's long-awaited broadband policy, SA Connect, is given the green light.
  • In 2014, former communications minister Yunus Carrim appoints the National Broadband Advisory Council, consisting of independent technical experts and representatives of business, trade unions and civil society, to advise him on the implementation of SA Connect.
  • In the 2015 State of the Nation Address (SONA), former president Jacob Zuma declared that year "the year of broadband" in the hope the government project will take off.
  • In his speech, Zuma also announced Telkom will lead broadband deployment, a move described by pundits as uncompetitive.
  • During the 2016 SONA, there was still no real progress in regards to the broadband project, with Zuma only saying government will "fast-track the implementation the first phase of the national broadband plan".
  • In the Adjusted ENE document of the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTPS) in October 2016, the DTPS bemoaned the delay caused by SITA in awarding a tender for phase one rollout.
  • ITWeb revealed in November 2016 that six companies were in the running for the tender to rollout the country's broadband project.
  • A week later, SITA cancelled the tender with no explanation.
  • January 2017, the DTPS indicated it is exploring alternative mechanisms of implementing phase one of SA Connect within the provisions of the law, following the cancellation of the tender.
  • In the 2017 budget speech, former finance minister Pravin Gordhan earmarkedR1.9 billion over the medium-term for broadband implementation.
  • In May 2017, Siyabonga Cwele, DTPS minister at the time, announced the launch of the 'Internet for All' programme. The minister described the initiative as one that will supplement SA Connect, accelerating government aspirations to connect citizens.
  • The 2017 MTPS revealed the changes to the implementation model for phase one of SA Connect resulted in delays in rolling out the broadband project.
  • In November 2017, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who was deputy DTPS minister at the time, said the department was also looking into satellite technology as a possible way to bring Internet connectivity to all South Africans.
  • Delivering the DTPS budget vote in May 2018, Cwele said government was targeting to connect 570 sites by the end of the year, with plans to connect 327 sites by the end of June 2018.
  • In July 2018, the department confirmed it had missed its target to bring 327 sites online, and only 187 were connected at that time.
  • The DTPS stated in the 2018 mini-budget that broadband rollout was on track.
  • In January, the Department of Communications, under the leadership of Ndabeni-Abrahams, kick-started its process to rollout broadband services in Limpopo's Vhembe district.