SA Connect kicks off in priority district

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Broadband rollout commences in district municipality earmarked for phase one of SA Connect.
Broadband rollout commences in district municipality earmarked for phase one of SA Connect.

Phase one of government's long-awaited broadband plan, SA Connect, is showing signs of life as work to connect one of the eight priority districts earmarked to pilot the project has finally commenced.

The OR Tambo District Municipality in the Eastern Cape has kicked-off the first phase of the broadband rollout project in two local municipalities in the district.

This announcement marks a significant step in the ambitious broadband project, which up until now, has been up in the air for some time.

Introducing broadband services in OR Tambo also marks a significant milestone, as the Eastern Cape-located municipality was one of the districts identified as posing a big challenge to connect.

The Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA), which reports to the telecoms department, confirms broadband rollout in the OR Tambo district started in the third quarter of the 2016/2017 financial year.

According to USAASA, it issued a once-off subsidy to Brightwave Technologies to construct and extend broadband infrastructure and provide services thereof 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.

"This broadband initiative facilitated by USAASA will enhance the ICT status in under-serviced areas within the Mlontlo and KSD local municipalities and address a need for an integrated broadband network towards the development and creation of smart villages," says Lumko Mtimde, CEO of USAASA.

USAASA notes KSD municipality is expected to have 10 backhaul sites and 589 access network sites, while Mhlontlo will have seven backhaul sites and 420 access network sites.

A total of 609 priority sites will be completed in March 2017 and the balance of 400 subsidised by Brightwave Technologies in November 2018, the agency states.

Hard times

Last year marked three years since the national broadband policy was adopted by Cabinet, with no signs of progress to connect the districts identified as the pilot sites for phase one of SA Connect.

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

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

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, the implementation of the project has almost entirely been limited to various uncoordinated initiatives by provinces and metros, as previously noted by ICT research firm BMI-TechKnowledge.

Issues such as limited funds, pushing back deadlines, waiting for the State IT Agency to appoint a lead agency, which then unexpectedly cancelled the tender for a service provider, have all mired rollout of the project.

Last month, the telecoms department broke its silence regarding the implementation of phase one of SA Connect following the cancellation of the tender, and said it is exploring alternative mechanisms within the provisions of the law, to see the project through.

SA Connect aims to deliver 100% broadband connectivity to government facilities by 2020. The broadband project is also expected to deliver broadband access to 90% of the country's population by 2020 and 100% by 2030.

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