Government ready to expand 5G and fibre to all South Africans, minister says

18 May 2021 - 20:02 By amanda khoza
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Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams on Tuesday announced that R27bn had been pledged collectively by operators and vendors to expand the 4G network and to deploy 5G and fibre in SA.

“This network expansion is extending to rural and underserved areas, which will benefit communities and create jobs. As such, I hope that the licensing of the Wireless Open Access Network and the High-Demand Spectrum will complement these rollout plans,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

Speaking during the tabling of her R3.7bn budget vote for the 2021/2022 financial year, the minister said the government envisaged connecting 80% of public buildings by 2024.

Providing an update on the commitments made during 2019’s budget vote, Ndabeni-Abrahamsa said: “Cabinet approved the report and the presidential commission on the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). I am pleased to inform you that the project management office has developed the consultative strategic implementation plan to ensure that the recommendations of the report are implemented by all critical stakeholders to position SA globally.”

A commitment was also made to overhaul all policies and legislation to enable digital transformation.

“We have since reviewed the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill, the South African Broadcasting Corporation Bill, the South African Post Bank Amendment Bill, data and cloud policy gazetting, audio and audiovisual policy that are gazetted,” said the minister, who was also tasked with establishing a new department to drive digital transformation.

In this regard, she said a new five-year strategy, a service delivery model and a new organisational structure had been developed.

“We further undertook to reconfigure our state-owned entities to be in line with our new mandate. We have commenced with the establishment of the State Digital Infrastructure Company through which we have developed its business case and the draft bill which is in the consultation stages.”

Ndabeni-Abrahams added that progress had been made with the reconfiguration of State Information Technology Agency (SITA) into forming the State Digital Infrastructure Company. A business case and the draft bill has been developed and are in consultation stages, she said.

On the rollout of broadband, the minister said an additional 400 government sites had been connected, bringing the overall total to 970.

On the high-demand spectrum licensing issue, Ndabeni-Abrahams said her department had committed to issue the final policy and policy direction to the Independent Communications Authority of SA.

“Icasa subsequently issued an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for licensing of the High Demand Spectrum and Wireless Open Access Network (WOAN).

On broadcasting digital migration, Ndabeni-Abrahams said, the analogue switch-off (ASO) process commenced in March after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement in his February state of the nation address.

Progress has been made in the Free State, Northern Cape and the North West provinces and the department is aiming at switching off the majority of the three sites by the middle of July 2021.

On the digital dividend, the minister said the switching-off process is targeting to release the much-needed 700MHz and 800MHZ digital dividend spectrum.

“The spectrum will be released in a phased provincial manner across the country towards our goal of end of March 2022. This process, combined with the digital-to-digital migration, will make available a total of 168MHz spectrum in each of the provinces.”

She said the department was working with the TV broadcasting industry to ensure that the target of March 2022 is realised.

“This will allow spectrum availability for IMT (international mobile telecommunications) services on broadband which Icasa is now licencing. The remaining five provinces will have a voucher-system model.

She added that the release of spectrum had major economic and social benefits for the government.

“In our policy and policy direction we tried to address some of the challenges like competition, transformation, and opening space for new entrants in the industry. The current litigation on spectrum auction and licensing of WOAN hamper our determination to rebuild our economy.

“We have, and continue to implore parties involved, including the regulator (Icasa) to find an amicable solution to the ongoing impasse. I believe that it is within the industry’s ability to find an out-of-court dispute resolution mechanism and avert the delays and stagnating economic impact,” she said.

Speaking on the presidential employment stimulus initiative, she said there was a bid for funding to support digital access for low-income households and stimulate job creation and economic growth through household broadband connectivity and public Wi-Fi access. The department hopes that R340m can be made available for the programme to commence in this financial year.

“Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA) will proceed with the connectivity of OR Tambo and as such an amount of R60m has been allocated.”

On job creation, Ndabeni-Abrahams said 5,920 jobs have already been created by the digital infrastructure sector and it is envisaged that there will be an increase of at least 25%.

The department has committed R2.6bn towards assisting small, medium and micro enterprises.

On Icasa, she said new regulations aimed at promoting historically disadvantaged citizens in the ICT sector had been published.  Among the changes is the requirement for licences to comply with the mandatory equity ownership requirement of 30% by black people and level 4 BBBEE status.

She said the department will be partnering with the department of higher education to train 20,000 young people in 4IR and related skills. Six Technical Vocational Education & Training (TVET) colleges in Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West and KwaZulu-Natal have been targeted for 2021.

The department will also be working with the department of employment and labour to train 73,000 unemployed youths, she said, adding that the department had allocated R9.5m for a digital skills programme.

 During her speech Ndabeni-Abrahams admitted that state owned enterprises were not performing as desired. The department, she said, was also working closely with the Competition Commission and Icasa to reduce data costs.

“There has been a reduction of data by all mobile operators by 33%, with the average one GIG of data costing R99 or less. The department will continue to monitor this, to ensure not only further reduction of costs but also to ensure quality services.”

She added that R3m had been allocated for the cost to communicate programme.

“Icasa published draft regulations on mobile broadband services inquiry on March 26 2021. The closing date for submission of representations on the draft regulations is May 28 2021. The authority will, upon consideration of various stakeholder representations, aim to promulgate the final regulations by the end of Q2 of the current financial year.”

The department has published the draft data and cloud policy, which is aligned to the  government’s objectives of economic inclusion.

She said the sourcing of locally manufactured products remained a key focus under the department’s digital economy master plan and the 4IR programme.

The minister said the policy on rapid deployment of electronic communications facilities was in the final stages following a memorandum of understanding entered into between her department and the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs finalised in July 2020.

The policy allows and facilitates rapid deployment of electronic communications infrastructure necessitated by the Covid-19 crisis.

She said public hearings on the draft White papers on the audio and audiovisual content services policy framework were also under way.

Her department is finalising the SABC SOC Ltd bill, which will amend the Broadcasting Act of 1999.

“The bill will ensure that the public broadcaster is aligned to terrain of PaaS (Platform as a Service) in the development of digital content, enhance productivity and functionality of SABC in supporting people-centred service delivery, and supports good governance,” Ndabeni-Abrahams said.

She said she was confident that the bill would continue to protect the independence of the SABC.

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