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Internet for All gains momentum

Written by Hlengiwe Ngobese and Noluthando Motswai
Through collaborations between government and the private sector, all South Africans should have internet access by 2021.

Internet for All will connect more than 20 million South Africans to the internet by the end of 2020. (Photo: World Bank)A pilot project in the OR Tambo District Municipality in the Eastern Cape will bring the economic and social benefits of the internet to one of the most under-served communities in the country.

With five separate mostly rural municipalities – King Sabata Dalindyebo, Nyandeni, Mhlontlo, Port St Johns and Ingquza Hill – the OR Tambo District was identified by the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services as the one most in need of the ICT (information and communications technology) infrastructure that will follow as government rolls out the ambitious digital project of Internet for All.

The project, which is aligned to the National Development Plan and South Africa Connect, aims to provide more than 20 million South Africans, especially those in rural areas, access to the internet by the end of 2020 through new models of public-private collaboration.

Under the pilot project, clinics and schools in the district were the first to be connected to wi-fi infrastructure. According to the spokesperson for the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Siya Qoza, the digital ecosystem has proven to be a hit with the local community. “They have moved on to creating content relevant to their community. The possibilities for safer towns and local business are endless.”

More than the internet

Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA), a state-owned entity, built the infrastructure. By using one of their own entities, the department managed to improve the limited digital infrastructure without the high cost being passed on to the people of OR Tambo District.

In addition, the National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa (NEMISA) will provide ICT skills training to young people in the district. “ICTs are revolutionising communities and economies. NEMISA is here to ensure that these youth can make their own unique contribution.”

Funds from the Eastern Cape Department of Education have allowed district teachers to undergo NEMISA-run ICT courses as well. Qoza explained: “They will go back to the community and share their new skills.”

Across the country

South Africa and Africa’s technology sector is growing but the use of the internet is not. Qoza says Internet for All “is a creative and scalable way to ensure connectivity, especially in rural communities”.

Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele said that the majority of those who do not have internet connections are women and people living in rural areas and under-serviced municipalities.

The Interet for All programme was unveiled at the World Economic Forum on Africa meeting held in  Durban earlier this year. It is a partnership between the department, WEF, business and civil society. “The initiative will rest on four pillars: infrastructure expansion, ICT skills development, affordability and relevant content development, including internet content in our languages,” Minister Cwele said.

The programme was scheduled to begin last year but there were no bidders who could meet government expectations. State entities like SITA (the State Information Technology Agency), Broadband Infraco (BBI) and SENTECH were drafted to implement the project instead.

Broadband Infraco expanded its fibre network to 14 900 kilometres, and this year all entities will spend R416 million to connect 2 700 sites.

Minister Cwele says the department is on track to meet its target of connected South Africans.

Just as important, he believes the infrastructure the government is building will help bring down the cost of data.

“ICASA’s State of ICT Report seems to suggest a lack of competition, particularly by dominant players. The report indicates that data traffic increased by 55 per cent, data revenue increased from R30 to R38 billion and employment decreased by 4 000, yet prices remain sticky at the same level.”

Internet for All will allow the country to reap the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Minister says this is a bold and practical step to reduce the digital divide and stimulate economic activity in rural areas especially.

“With our modest budget and through strategic partnerships, we are on track to meet our ambitious target of ensuring that all South Africans have access to and are utilising the internet for their development.”

Champions of the project include:

Telkom, MTN, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Intel Corporation, Boston Consulting Group, Digital Opportunity Trust, Cisco, DBSA, Neotel/Liquid Telecom, African Development Bank, the United Kingdom Department for International Development, the World Bank, Vodacom, Cell C, Google, Ericsson, Accenture, Altron, the Industrial Development Corporation, SoEs, ICT  SMMEs, Research ICT Africa, Ndlovukazi Online Media and WEF Global Shapers.

 

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