Johannesburg - The Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) may finance Communications Minister Yunus Carrim’s plan to drastically improve access to broadband.
In South Africa Connect, the broadband policy gazetted earlier this month, Carrim revealed that following discussions with the National Treasury and other departments, development finance institutions DBSA and IDC would be considered to finance broadband deployment in rural and underserviced areas.
If Carrim’s plan is properly implemented and its targets met, the impact of a R65 billion investment on the South African economy could be the creation of more than 400 000 much-needed jobs over a decade and the contribution of more than R130bn to the country’s gross domestic product.
According to the policy, Carrim would appoint a broadband council of representatives and experts from the government, state-owned companies, business and civil society to advise him on the policy and its implementation.
The first version of the roadmap to improve broadband is expected to be completed by July next year and the department, the Treasury and the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission’s Strategic Integrated Project 15 have already commissioned studies to lay building blocks for improved broadband access.
It is also hoped that all public health facilities will have dedicated connectivity to ensure faster patient diagnoses and fewer medical errors.
Access to broadband must be affordable, Carrim’s policy notes.
A recently released Alliance for Affordable Internet report showed that broadband markets that priced access to the internet beyond the reach of most people were neither socially nor economically efficient.
The Google-sponsored alliance’s report placed South Africa in 12th place out of 46 emerging and developing countries in its affordability index.
The index ranked countries on communications infrastructure, and access and affordability.
South Africa scored 41.4 on communications infrastructure, 63.2 on access and affordability, and achieved an overall composite score of 46.5 on the affordability index (all out of 100).
Compared with other African countries, South Africa was ranked below Mauritius (in second place) and Morocco (seventh).
According to the alliance, three in five of the world’s people were not connected to the internet.
“This digital divide hampers economic and social progress,” the alliance said.
Carrim’s policy says the country’s lack of readily available, high-speed and high-quality bandwidth hurts its development and global competitiveness.
It says that despite significant growth in the information and communication technology sector over the past 10 years, affordable access to the full range of communication services has not been realised for all.
Despite the cost of devices (smartphones, laptops, computers and modems), which is seen as a significant barrier to broadband use, mobile broadband has rapidly become the main form of access rather than providing a complementary service to fixed broadband, as is the case in mature economies.
For this the government blames the slow deployment of fixed broadband services, or Asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), and the relatively high costs.
State-owned integrated communications company Telkom has only 800 000 ADSL subscribers, which the government admits is very low for a middle-income country.
Meanwhile, Carrim has also gazetted proposed amendments to the Broadcasting Digital Policy, which was first published in 2008 for public comment.
One of the proposed changes is that the use of a control system is not mandatory but the government will have its own control system for the 5 million set-top boxes in poor households.
It is subsidising set-top boxes to the tune of R2.5bn.
The control system will also apply to the local electronics industry and will be available for future use by broadcasters that may not want to use it when the digital migration programme is finally fully implemented by June 2015.
In December last year, the Johannesburg High Court set aside former communications minister Dina Pule’s May 2012 decision to instruct state signal distributor Sentech to take responsibility for set-top box control system for free-to-air DTT.
Now Carrim has indicated that abandoning the control system would avoid challenges to the implementation of the digital migration programme resulting from differences between broadcasters and manufacturers.