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Comms minister targets 2024 to connect all South Africans

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Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni wants research and development projects that provide universal connectivity in SA to be expedited, as government seeks to close the digital divide gap in three years.

The minister announced yesterday at Telkom’s Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference (SATNAC) that government is reviewing its plans to ensure all South Africans have access to connectivity at home.

Government’s ambitious plan was first announced in December last year, 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 president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Speaking at the SATNAC event yesterday, Ntshavheni asked for projects that support government’s commitment to be fast-tracked and taken to market without delay.

The annual SATNAC kicked off on Sunday in Drakensberg, focusing on accelerating digitalisation and innovations.

This year, the conference’s intention is to showcase the latest developments in the ICT sector, host a peer-review and publishing platform for students, and develop the next generation of innovative technology.

In her SATNAC address, Ntshavheni raised concerns about the digital divide in society, adding the gap extended to government institutions, hence the need to accelerate connectivity research and projects.

“The bulk of government administration and services is yet to be digitised. We are confronted by the challenge of how do we leapfrog public service into the future into new ways of working?”

Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.

The minister wants SA to emulate the European Union, which she said had committed to provide one terabyte to homes by 2025, and she challenged the ICT sector to commit to similar targets for the country.

“It's not just about getting the services out there. Access to connectivity has become a basic need. It is as much a basic need as access to water and access to electricity – because it determines access to education, access to health and access to work, which are fundamental for our survival.”

Ntshavheni noted that capacity to deliver increased connectivity will require the acceleration of spectrum to accommodate increased 5G capabilities.

Resultantly, the minister said government is following its plans to make spectrum available, including implementing digital migration.

Migrating from analogue TV to digital TV will release spectrum that is needed for a variety of telecom services. The exercise is also a vital part of government’s strategy to properly manage spectrum.

Last month, the minister revealed SA’s plan to expedite the digital migration process.

Ntshavheni outlined how the country will cover lost ground in transitioning from analogue transmission to digital, setting March 2022 as the deadline.

Concurring with Ntshavheni, Telkom Group CEO Sipho Maseko said long-term strategies with aligned outcomes are required.

“Alignment does not mean endorsement, but alignment actually means that all of us realise what needs to be achieved. We may have fundamental problems here and there, but actually we accept the outcome that we want to achieve needs to be realised.”

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