Shilowa promises broadband

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Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa has vowed his government will provide "affordable broadband access" to 95% of the province's residents in the next five years.

Addressing the provincial legislature during his annual State of the Province address, Shilowa said: "This initiative will not only enhance economic growth and investment, but will also contribute to social development and improve the delivery of social services."

Named Gauteng Link, the project used to be known as Blue Umbrella, and was initially announced last year. However, three months after the announcement, the R93 million initiative seemed to have stalled, with BlueIQ spokesman Jameel Chand saying it was taking "longer than anticipated".

Shilowa was, however, bullish on the topic this morning, saying Gauteng Link would "add significantly to the province's GDP and job creation efforts by 2014".

The premier dedicated a significant portion of his address to technology issues, with the speech being broadcast live online on the provincial government's Web site.

Developmental issues

Starting with education, Shilowa said electronic infrastructure had been installed in 2 500 schools, clinics and social development sites to date. The aim of this infrastructure is "to facilitate the easy referral of children between services in health, education and social development" and the programme is set to be expanded upon in the coming financial year. The uptake of maths, science and technology education will also be promoted at provincial level through a public awareness campaign.

Pertaining to health, Shilowa again spoke of the introduction of smart card technology at provincial health sites. He spoke about the same topic in last year's provincial address, but now says it is to be rolled out to 30% of health facilities by the end of the year.

Crime fighting capacity was, according to Shilowa, given a boost by the new 10111 emergency centre, based in Midrand. According to the premier, vehicle location systems had been installed in more than 1 800 cars in the Johannesburg metropolitan area, allowing the centre to track these vehicles' movements. "All 6 200 vehicles in the province will be fitted with tracking devices before the end of this financial year," he said.

Recognising challenges

Shilowa acknowledged in his speech that the Gauteng Shared Services Centre (GSSC), which, among others, acts as a provincial call centre for licence bookings, "continued to experience challenges" in the past year.

The GSSC last year experienced a two-week crash, seemingly due to a virus infection, while continuously struggling to keep up with the demand for learner and driver licences.

However, Shilowa stressed that the centre continues to grow and now handles more than 450 000 calls per month, has 500 seats, and more than 1 000 employees. "Further expansion is planned with the establishment of 150 seats in Mogale City and Tshwane."

Shilowa, on the whole, was optimistic about the province's future and quoted iBurst MD Alan Knott-Craig Junior as saying "don't panic... 2008 will be a tough year, but I also see it as a great opportunity to seize the day while everybody else is whinging".

Related stories:
Gauteng's Blue Umbrella still folded
Gauteng turns to ICT to end chaos
Time runs out for licensing solutions
GSSC recovers from crash
Corruption alleged at GSSC
Emergency contact centre opens
GSSC rapped on the knuckles

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