ANC prioritises broadband access

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President Cyril Ramaphosa (Source: @MYANC Twitter page)
President Cyril Ramaphosa (Source: @MYANC Twitter page)

The governing African National Congress (ANC) party has reiterated that digital migration and access to broadband remain key priorities in 2022.

This, as the ANC looks to various reforms to revive the economy post-COVID-19, after the deadly virus devastated the economy, causing massive job losses.

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the ANC’s annual 8 January statement to mark the 110th birthday celebrations of the movement in Limpopo, at the weekend. The party’s 110th anniversary celebration took place physically after it was unable to do so last year owing to COVID-19.

The 8 January statement, noted Ramaphosa, sets out priorities for all ANC members and cadres that must underpin their work during 2022.

Outlining some of the party’s priorities for this year, the president said the ANC and alliance structures were instrumental in informing government’s social assistance and economic relief programmes.

“The Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, which was launched in October 2020, draws extensively from the movement’s positions and was developed in consultation with social partners at NEDLAC,” he stated.

“As part of this plan, we have undertaken several economic reforms in areas such as energy security, the efficiency of our ports, digitalmigration and access to broadband, and ease of doing business.”

During last year’s proceedings, the president expressed that reforms in the telecoms sector will accelerate the roll-out of 5G, enhancing the economy’s competitiveness, lowering data costs and boosting the operation of SMEs, co-operatives and large firms.

Enabling universal access to broadband has been key feature in government’s plans for some time now, with the state setting itself a target to close the digital divide in three years.

Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni revealed last November that government was reviewing its plans to ensure all South Africans have access to connectivity at home.

Government’s ambitious plan was first announced in December 2020, when then minister of communications and digital technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, agreed to ensure 80% of the population has access to the internet by 2024, as part of her performance agreements signed by the president.

Last year, Ramaphosa indicated that SA Connect, the ambitious government broadband project, should be expedited in response to the growing need by South Africans to participate in the digital economy.

Critical to delivering increased connectivity is making spectrum available, including implementing the digital migration project.

The country’s migration process has been slowly gaining momentum, with thelast analogue transmitter switched off in the North West province in December.

South Africa’s digital migration is important because it will allow for the spectrum dividend occupied by the analogue signals to be freed up for mobile broadband services.

The freeing of the radio frequency spectrum is a critical component of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (ICASA) plan to release spectrum as per the recently published invitation to apply (ITA).

However, when it seemed like the release of the much-anticipated high-demand spectrum was finally making headway, mobile operator Telkom threw a spanner in theprocess.

Telkom filed an application asking the Gauteng High Court to review and set aside the ITAs for high-demand spectrum published by ICASA on 10 December 2021.

In a statement, the company said the application includes an urgent interdict to prevent ICASA from processing any applications until the review is heard.

Telecoms regulator ICASA was set to auction the much-needed spectrum in March last year, but Telkom, together with other telcos, approached the courts to challenge the process.

SA’s allocation of spectrum has been up in the air for a number of years, with the last significant spectrum awarded 16 years ago. The last big set of spectrum issued was in the 2.1GHz band, which helped the operators in their 3G network deployment.

Unlike its African counterparts, SA is one of the few countries that has not allocated 4G/LTE spectrum on the continent. This has forced local operators to improvise with spectrum re-farming and carrier aggregation.

For the mobile operators, spectrum allocation will help provide faster and more widespread high-speed data services. It’s expected the freed-up spectrum will reduce the cost of data and increase access to the internet.

Additionally, for government, a spectrum auction means a boost to the fiscus.

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