Govt wants 80% of population to have Internet access by 2024

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Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. (Photo source: GCIS)
Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. (Photo source: GCIS)

Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has agreed to ensure 80% of the South African population has access to the Internet by 2024.

On Tuesday, the performance agreements signed by president Cyril Ramaphosa with all ministers were made public, indicating the targets agreed to by his incumbent executive.

Ramaphosa initially announced the performance agreements in his State of the Nation Address in February, explaining that signing agreements is in line with strengthening the capacity of the state and increasing accountability.

The agreements, which are based on the targets contained in the medium-term strategic framework (MTSF), have been made public to allow citizens to hold those whom they elected into office to account, according to a government statement.

In her performance agreement, Ndabeni-Abrahams has signed on to boost SA’s Internet penetration to 80% over the MTSF, up from only half of the population with Internet access.

South Africa’s Internet penetration measures above the halfway mark, with 56.3% of the population reported to be Internet users, according to Statista.

According to Stats SA’s General Household Survey, at least one member in a household can access the Internet at home, workplace, place of study or Internet café. Mobile devices still remain the most common way in which to access the Internet, in terms of the survey.

Government’s performance agreement, however, does not state the targeted Internet speeds or how the 80% target will be met.

The minister of communications must also oversee implementation of phase two of SA Connect, focusing on 42 000 government sites to 10MBps. In addition, she must review the model for SA Connect to increase private sector participation with government as a buyer of services.

Among the targets, the minister must introduce the state Digital Infrastructure Company Bill, including the integration of excess capacities of self-provision companies: Prasa, Sanral, Eskom and Transnet.

Furthermore, she must amend the Electronic Communications Act (replace it with the Digital Infrastructure Bill), to ensure transformation, competition and more investment in infrastructure, according to the performance agreement.

Still fighting for #DataMustFall

Turning to the #DataMustFall plight, Ndabeni-Abrahams must reduce the current cost of data by 50%.

South Africa is among 57 countries identified by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) that are yet to meet the UN Broadband Commission’s affordability threshold of 1GB data for no more than 2% of average monthly income.

In the case of SA, 1GB of mobile data averages about 2.17% of the average monthly income, meaning the country does not meet the affordability standards, according to the A4AI’s 2020 Affordability Report.

The performance agreement highlights that SA is ranked 31st in Africa for the price of 1GB of mobile data as per the Competition Commission. With that in mind, the target is to ensure the country will be in the top 10 in Africa for the price of 1GB data pricing by 2024.

On spectrum licensing, the document emphasises the allocation of high-demand 4G spectrum to reduce the cost of data and increase access to the Internet.

Spectrum allocation is critical to SA in regards to the reduction of data prices which resulted in the #DataMustFall campaigns. Since 2016, South Africans have been complaining about the high price of data through the #DataMustFall social media banner, and both the Competition Commission and the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) initiated inquiries into data pricing.

Equally, mobile network operators Vodacom, MTN, Telkom and Cell C have been readying themselves to take advantage of the spectrum to strengthen and develop new services, such as 5G.

Furthermore, for government, a spectrum auction will boost the fiscus.

To achieve the 4G coverage target, Ndabeni-Abrahams is responsible for ensuring ICASA is adequately resourced in order to license 4G spectrum. She must also implement the performance management system for ICASA councillors.

The minister must also ensure the National Radio Frequency Plan is revised in line with WRC-19 outcomes by June 2021.

In terms of the Broadcasting Digital Migration programme, the minister must meet the March 2023 implementation target.

Turning to 5G spectrum, the target is for licensing and commencement of rollout by March 2024. The minister is therefore responsible for issuing policy direction on 5G by December 2021.

As part of the policy direction, she is to introduce the conditions and obligations for the participation of youth, women and people with disability in the digital economy by December 2021, states the performance agreement between Ramaphosa and Ndabeni-Abrahams.

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