'SA Connect is on track'
The Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) says it is on course with the implementation of the first phase of SA Connect, after unnamed sources within the department recently revealed the project is all but "dead".
DTPS spokesperson Thulani Ngubane says the "work to implement SA Connect is backed by tangible actions that have been carried out by the department, without fail".
SA Connect was unveiled in December 2013 by then minister of communications Yunus Carrim, who gazetted the initiative as the country's new broadband policy. The policy and associated strategy outline several projects to boost broadband connectivity and access in the country, including an overall vision to give every citizen access to a broadband connection at a cost of 2.5% or less of their average monthly income.
But aside from occasional mentions by telecommunications and postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele, and the designation of Telkom as lead implementing agency for the initiative earlier this year, sources close to the project say virtually no progress has been made.
However, Ngubane says since the approval of SA Connect, the DTPS has worked on the first phase of the business case, "which is premised on the aggregation of government demand and procurement to stimulate private investment in infrastructure".
"A lot has happened thus far across the different spheres of government and the private sector. As the DTPS, we have worked with the CSIR [Council for Scientific and Industrial Research] to conduct broadband infrastructure gap analysis and to determine the proximity of the targeted government facilities to fibre infrastructure."
Ngubane notes initial site surveys of the first phase facilities have been completed and the information will be added to the broadband implementation plan. "The surveys have assisted with determining the condition of the existing infrastructure and the prioritisation of sites in accordance with the readiness of facilities. The department has also developed draft technical specifications, taking into consideration the available infrastructure and technologies."
The DTPS has also completed the nominal planning for phase two of SA Connect, which aims to expand infrastructure to connect government facilities in the remaining 44 districts, says Ngubane. "The nominal plan has informed the phase two business case that has been submitted to the National Treasury. Phase two will incorporate existing provincial plans."
He explains the department has been working with provinces regarding the provincial broadband plan, and two provinces are now in the implementation phase, while the rest are in the planning phase.
"We are currently monitoring progress in Gauteng and Western Cape to identify any gaps in the work that they are doing. Funding for broadband remains a critical issue that needs intervention from both the national and provincial treasury," he says.
The State IT Agency is also working on a plan to increase bandwidth for government facilities across the country, adds Ngubane.
"We are on course to connect South Africa with the cyber security hub that is being operationalised between the DTPS and CSIR, and the department is working on a national public awareness campaign on cyber security.
"SA Connect is a broader policy of SA government; it would be wrong for anyone to think that this big national project will be wholly delivered by the DTPS or government alone. It's a huge project that needs a multi-stakeholder and sectoral approach."
Ngubane says the private sector is also investing in rolling out additional 3G and LTE radio sites to expand coverage and capacity, and there are initiatives aimed at expanding fibre roll-out in big and small towns, and the provision of fibre-to-the-home or business in some areas.