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SA Connect phase two in the works, says government

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 01 Oct 2021

Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has confirmed that phase two of government’s ambitious broadband project, SA Connect, will still go ahead, albeit in a different manner.

Ntshavheni didn’t provide further details, except to say the project is part of the strategy to achieve government’s goal of bridging the digital divide and advancing the country into the digital economy.

“COVID-19 has taught us it’s no longer about fibre-to-the-home; it’s about connectivity to the home – whether it’s wireless or data-to-the-home.”

SA Connect, first announced in 2013, is the national broadband project identified by government to meet the technology goals of the National Development Plan of creating an inclusive information society.

Due to the magnitude of the project, government determined it should be implemented in two stages: phase one and phase two. In phase one, the project aimed to connect schools, health facilities, government offices, Thusong Centres and post offices, in eight rural district municipalities, to broadband services.

To determine the best ways to implement the next phase of the broadband project, a feasibility study for phase two of SA Connect was conducted by National Treasury and Development Bank of SA.

Further to this, the communications ministry, which is overseeing the project, is reviewing the implementation approach, according to Ntshavheni.

“In my view, the way in which they want to do it [SA Connect], we’re still going the South African way of behaving like technology has not advanced. We want to go and trench and all of that when technology has moved on.”

The minister said as policy-maker, her department can decide on an open access network in particular areas; give telcos benefits and incentives to establish open access to the network where they already operate, as opposed to government trenching.

She explains: “This will get us very far because there is no duplication of resources. However, if you want BBI (Broadband Infraco) to trench fibre lines where MTN, Telkom and Vodacom are already there, what’s beneficial about that?

“For me, my goal is to get South Africans to have data and have any other device to get data from their own homes and provide connectivity, whether it’s through wireless or otherwise. If people have the money to trench, I’m not going to waste government money on trenching; it doesn’t make sense.”

South Africa’s internet penetration measures above the halfway mark, with 56.3% of the population reported to be internet users, according to Statista.

According to Stats SA’s General Household Survey, at least one member in a household can access the internet at home, workplace, place of study or internet café. Mobile devices still remain the most common way in which to access the internet, it states.