The new Minister of Telecoms and Postal Services, Siyabonga Cwele, outlined his plans for the future of the new department at the Intel Africa Broadband and USF Leaders forum held in Cape Town recently.
Cwele has said that the government’s goal is to provide broadband access to every South African and ensure that the country’s cities are digitally connected. “Connectivity is no longer a privilege of a few, but a basic human right,” Cwele said.
He also noted the progress that South Africa has made recently, referencing the Stats SA general household survey from 2013 which showed that 40.9% of households have at least one member with access to the internet, either at home, work, school, or at an internet café.
He stated that this growth in access is most likely due to high the levels of mobile connectivity experienced in South Africa, which has a mobile subscriber rate of over 100%.
He further went on to say that the government plans to connect more than just people. Cwele highlighted the need for inexpensive broadband as the concept of the ‘internet of everything’ becomes more commonplace. “We need to start thinking of digital cities with the need for smart energy grids… smart transport systems.”
Looking more broadly at the technology landscape in South Africa, Cwele says that policies that limit competitiveness and the efficient roll out of broadband need to be removed, and that a detailed digital roadmap will be developed by government in a push-to-open access broadband fibre, develop e-skills among public sector workers, prioritise e-government, and ensure that all school children in the country are equipped with tablets by 2020.
Further news which emerged last week suggests that Broadband Infraco, a state-owned telecoms infrastructure company, is likely to be put under Cwele and the Department of Telecoms and Postal Services (DTPS), and will no longer report to the Department of Public Enterprises.
Industry experts speculate that this will allow for possible collaboration with Telkom and even state-owned broadcasting signal distributor Sentech, both of which already report to the Cwele’s department. Both Telkom and Broadband Infraco have expressed their desire to manage a roll-out of infrastructure to underserviced parts of South Africa, on behalf of government.
It is speculated that this shift might be the first of several similar moves, with sources in government suggesting that communications regulator ICASA may also be given over to the DTPS. For now ICASA has remained under the control of the Department of Communication, from which the DTPS was split off when President Zuma formed his new cabinet.