DA against creation of another state company to roll-out SA Connect

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DA shadow minister of telecommunications and postal services Marian Shinn.
DA shadow minister of telecommunications and postal services Marian Shinn.

The DA says it is sceptical about the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services' (DTPS') revised plan for SA Connect to be managed by a yet-to-be created state company.

The new strategy for SA Connect was presented to parliament's portfolio committee on telecommunications and postal services on Tuesday. The DA says this included plans for the project management of the government broadband project to be carried out by the State ICT Infrastructure Company, which has not yet been created.

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. However, there has been limited progress in fully implementing SA Connect, despite numerous calls for the country's most significant telecommunications programme to come to fruition.

"It is clear the focus of the department has shifted from meeting the urgent delivery deadlines of SA Connect in under-developed areas, to building yet another state-owned company from the existing fibre networks and infrastructure operated by state entities Broadband Infraco, Sentech, Prasa, Eskom, Sanral and Transnet," DA shadow minister of telecommunications and postal services Marian Shinn says in a statement.

Government announced plans for the rationalisation of entities reporting to the DTPS in May, speaking about the establishment of both the State ICT Infrastructure Company and the State IT Company. However, at the time, their exact functions were not clear.

The DA says the formation of this new entity will start with drafting legislation to merge Broadband Infraco and Sentech into the State ICT Infrastructure Company. Shinn claims both these entities will be expected to fund their merger and future operations from their balance sheets, but neither currently receives government funding.

"BMI-TechKnowledge, which has extensively researched and costed SA Connect's requirements, estimates the capital funding needed for the roll-out at between R32.9 billion and R84.9 billion, depending on the technology used. Operational costs were calculated at between R54.8 million and R116.4 million," Shinn says.

"As usual, the short-sighted ANC government's control will not yield any tangible results anytime soon; instead it will remain a major deterrent to the expansion of broadband roll-out to all South Africans and exacerbate the digital divide between poorer rural communities and the Internet-empowered urban areas," she adds.

Sell Sentech and Broadband Infraco

Shinn says if government was serious about rapidly rolling-out broadband connectivity to the nation, it would sell Sentech and Broadband Infraco's network and fast-track the rapid deployment guidelines to reduce red tape between all spheres of government that currently hinders infrastructure build.

She also says government should "pressure and resource adequately the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa to drive infrastructure-sharing regulations between network licence-holders, and incentivise the ICT sector to connect under-resourced areas".

"Instead, the government now wants to waste more time and public money by creating a huge state broadband company that will further delay the much-needed roll-out of broadband connectivity," she concludes.

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