Govt mulls partnership model to deliver SA Connect

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The ministry overseeing government’s ambitious broadband project, SA Connect, is exploring partnerships with private sector players to provide 100% universal accessible broadband connectivity.

This information came to light yesterday during a presentation of the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies’ (DCDT’s) annual performance plans and budget votes for 2019/2020 before Parliament’s Select Committee on Public Enterprises and Communications.

Characterised by various uncoordinated initiatives, South Africa’s broadband project has been plagued by numerous issues that have hampered its full implementation.

In the past, industry watchers highlighted the project will have to involve private-public partnerships (PPPs) to really succeed, as government attempted to implement phase one of SA Connect.

It now appears the DCDT has also conceded a PPP model is better placed to attract necessary resources and funding that will help implement the key project.

Briefing the committee, the department admitted there have been delays and challenges, including budget constraints, with the provision of 100% universal accessible broadband connectivity by 2024.

“Nonetheless, the project is under way and the department is exploring public-private partnership models to fund the roll-out of broadband on a large scale,” the committee heard.

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% with the next phase of implementation.

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.

Budget constraints

During last year’s budget vote speech, former minister Siyabonga Cwele said the department will focus on connecting 570 sites, of which 327 would be completed by the end of June 2018. However, by July, the department admitted to missing its June target.

Responding to the committees’ questions yesterday, the DCDT indicated there is no additional funding for the proposed 570 sites for broadband connectivity; however, it is negotiating with the National Treasury for more funding.

In this year’s full budget review document, which is handed out to coincide with the National Budget Speech, Treasury said funds to be allocated for phase two of SA Connect will be confirmed in the 2020 budget, after the department completes the detailed institutional framework required for the second phase.

In the Estimates of National Expenditure document, the department highlighted that a new implementation model for SA Connect will result in the provision of broadband services to 970 government sites by the 2021/2022 financial year.

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