Telecoms

SA Connect phase one hinges on SITA tender

Telecoms minister Siyabonga Cwele still uncertain when phase one of SA Connect will be rolled out.
Telecoms minister Siyabonga Cwele still uncertain when phase one of SA Connect will be rolled out.

Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) minister Siyabonga Cwele hoped the month of September would mark the beginning of the rollout of phase one of SA Connect.

However, Cwele told ITWeb on the side-lines of the Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference (SATNAC) that the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) had to still finalise the awarding of the tender for the broadband project.

The minister's remarks follow debate on whether the country's ambitious broadband initiative has reached its sell-by date and become another botched government project.

Cwele explained: "Much as we have budget-tightening, we do have allocation of resources to start the rollout out of phase one [of SA Connect] as the president announced. We are still in the process of procurement and we really hope SITA may finalise that process."

As part of the National Development Plan (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.

SA Connect has been identified as the project that will meet the technology goals of the NDP to create an inclusive information society.

As part of phase one of SA Connect, government wants to connect all schools, health facilities, government offices, Thusong Centres and post offices in eight rural district municipalities to broadband services.

In his 2015 State of the Nation Address, president Jacob Zuma said phase one of SA Connect would be rolled out, with Telkom selected as the lead agency. The DTPS refuted Zuma's comments, stating Telkom is only a "designated" and not "appointed" lead agent.

In this year's budget speech, finance minister Pravin Gordhan increased funding of the national broadband plan by an extra R500 million. This pushed the budget to deliver widespread broadband access from R1.1 billion to R1.6 billion over the next three years.

In June, the DTPS concluded the assessment of the eight rural district municipalities that will pilot phase one of the project.

However, there has been no further clarity on the selection of a service provider that will ensure the successful implementation of the project.

"It was my wish that by September we should've appointed the service provider and started rolling out [phase one]," said Cwele.

He said he has no knowledge as to when SITA will finalise the selection process of a service provider for the project.

"Unfortunately, if you issue a tender you have to leave it to them. They must then see whether they are getting the people who qualify to do so. We are just waiting for them; we will keep on pushing them to prioritise this project."

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