USAASA's Nkosi reveals ICT access gaps

Johannesburg, 11 Oct 2013
Read time 3min 00sec

Yesterday, USAASA CEO Zami Nkosi unveiled the prevailing ICT access gaps as researched by USAASA, at the Swedish South African ICT Conference, in Sandton,Johannesburg. This research emanates from the organisation's overarching project to develop a National Strategy for Universal Service and Access.

Says Nkosi: "The Universal Service and Access Strategy is a Board project undertaken to research and design a comprehensive turnaround strategy for the agency and government as whole in support of the National Development Plan (NDP). It is for all intents and purposes a direct response to a policy expression in the form of the National Development Plan, the New Growth Path, and a legal requirement in terms of section 82 (3, 4, & 5) of the ECA, 2005. It is an integral part of the USAF project planning process."

He continued to note in his presentation that "the mapping exercise revealed a major problem and brings into greater focus the latest in declared unserved and underserviced areas in the country. The need is indeed quite dire. What we are seeing is that the same old provinces are being left behind while others have one operator over another. Our job and mandate says we must look at where industry is not looking and ensure equal coverage. What operators seem to forget is that many of the wealthy in urban areas, have a firm connection to the rural areas. They have not serviced their clients when they are out of the urban environs, meaning operators have effectively missed an opportunity."

The gaps highlighted by Nkosi show a heavy deficiency in five provinces. Already, the agency has mapped these gaps in terms of broadcasting penetration, ICT penetration and postal service penetration. According to Nkosi, the mapping exercise utilised Census 2011 data as well as industry generated data. The agency will be presenting to the minister and then quite broadly thereafter. While he would not be drawn on the cost estimates generated thus far, he did indicate that it is not a trivial amount.

"Some of our preliminary engagements with pertinent stakeholders have revealed support for the process on the whole. We must still revert back to those stakeholders with a comprehensive report, coupled with the estimated funding requirement," he says.

Chairperson Pumla Radebe alluded to this process as early as August this year.

The National Strategy on Universal Service and Access seeks to achieve the following:

* Develop a Universal Service and Access Strategy that will inform the agency and its stakeholders on programmes, policies and the concomitant modus operandi to ensure that ICTs are available, accessible and affordable to all citizens of the country;
* Identify, assess, qualify and quantify access gaps with a view to review implementation models for achieving digital inclusivity against pre-determined indicators;
* Position the mandate in the greater ICT landscape and benchmark it against international norms and standards;
* Advise on the optimal operational arrangement to deliver on the strategy and the type of implementation plan required to bridge the divide;
* Position the agency as the facilitator of universal service and universal access programmes and projects in the country; and
* Ensure co-ordination of universal service and universal access programmes and projects in order to address the lack of co-ordination that characterises the current scenario.


The Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa ("the agency") was established in terms of the Electronic Communications Act ("the ECA") with a sole mandate to promote the goals of universal access and universal service. The agency is accountable to Parliament and the general public. Its status as a public body is affirmed through Schedule 3A of the Public Finance Management Act (Act No 1 of 1999) ("the PFMA").

The right to communicate is a fundamental right enshrined in the South African Constitution. Passed in 1996, the Constitution establishes the right to freedom of expression, including the "freedom to receive and impart information or ideas". The freedom of expression has been interpreted to mean not only the right to speak and to be heard, but also the right to access the means to speak and to be heard.

To this end, the ICT infrastructure of South Africa will not be complete until it reaches all areas and people throughout the country. However, providing access is but one component. It needs to be affordable and provide all citizens with the full range of traditional and emerging ICTs, taking into account the unique needs among the user populations, including considerations of gender, age, ethnic, linguistic distinctions, and disabilities. ICT infrastructure provision is key to achieving such outputs.

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USAASA Makhotso Moiloa
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