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State fibre assets consolidation on government’s radar

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 29 Sept 2022
Deputy communications and digital technologies minister Philly Mapulane. (Image: GCIS)
Deputy communications and digital technologies minister Philly Mapulane. (Image: GCIS)

Deputy communications minister Philly Mapulane says government is of the view that there’s justification for the consolidation of the fibre assets of state-owned entities.

According to Mapulane, this would form part of the next phase in the creation of the state-owned Digital Infrastructure Company.

Mapulane made the comments yesterday during one of the breakaway sessions at Digital Council Africa’s Conext Conference 2022 in Cape Town.

The deputy minister of communications and digital technologies told delegates there are other state-owned companies that have fibre, such as Eskom and Transnet, as well as Sanral, which contains trench fibre along South African highways.

“The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) is working on strategies and mechanisms that will ensure this fibre infrastructure is consolidated to the benefit of achieving the broadband connectivity objective.

“There are those who argue very strongly that if we are to achieve connectivity, we require a very strong state-led rollout of fibre. Working with all the state-owned entities, if we collaborate together, we should be able to have a state-led broadband rollout, particularly to the rural areas, so that we can get all of our people connected.”

He pointed out there is a tendency to concentrate on urban areas as fibre is being rolled out, which sometimes results in others being left behind.

“This argument is strong that we should [achieve connectivity], but first we need to consolidate so that we can have a very strong state Digital Infrastructure Company, and in the long run, have all these state-owned entities that have access to these assets to consolidate, and for the state to lead that process going forward.”

Government has resolved to rationalise its state-owned companies to improve service delivery and operational efficiencies, Mapulane told the audience.

As a result, the DCDT is working on the merger of Broadband Infraco (BBI) and signal distributor Sentech, which will see the state-owned Digital Infrastructure Company established.

This company, according to the deputy minister, will have the capabilities for backhaul fibre, as well as access infrastructure.

Last December, it was revealed that a process that would potentially see BBI acquire Sentech was on the table. This, said Mapulane, is to facilitate the process of having one state infrastructure company.

“This will involve the amendment to the legislation, which we are working on. We are amending the ECA [Electronic Communications Act] and taking this through Parliament.

“To enable the merged company to achieve its objective will require for it to reach the economies of scale necessary to be competitive and succeed in delivering broadband connectivity to underserved South Africans and to government.”

According to Mapulane, government’s emphasis is on access not coverage. “We are aware that our country has 100% network coverage; however, the disparity between coverage and access is what needs to be addressed.

“South Africa is strategically located to provide a leading role on the continent. The fibre consolidation will afford SA the opportunity to link the rest of Africa, particularly the land-locked countries, with international submarine cables like Google’sEquiano, West Africa Cable System, Seacom and many others.

“Already, Broadband Infraco owns a stake in the West Africa Cable System, which will make it easier to connect the rest of Africa. Our vision must be to lead in the region and continentally,” he concluded.