SA's broadband below standards, says minister

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pretoria - South Africa's internet broadband penetration is at 2 percent below the global average of 22.5 percent, Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda said on Thursday.

Nyanda said that 15 years after the advent of democracy, South Africa had "not been able to ensure as many people as possible have access to what is undoubtedly rapidly becoming a basic tool, the Internet.

"Statistics tell us that broadband penetration in our country is low because of among other things, the lack of adequate infrastructure and the high cost of accessing broadband services," the minister said, speaking at the National Broadband Policy Colloquium on Thursday.

To ensure that every person in South Africa has access to broadband, Nyanda said different sectors needed to consolidate available resources with government to build the necessary infrastructure.

Government agencies and parastatals had "a key role to play in helping the country move with precision in the roll out of required infrastructure to ensure the availability of accessible and affordable broadband services".

The minister said government would still determine what role state-owned organisations like Sentech would play in delivering Internet access, particularly to rural areas and townships.

"As the information and communications technology industry, you need to ask yourselves whether these organisations are able to deal with the mammoth task of connecting the nation by themselves.

"If the answer is 'no', then what is it that you, as industry, ought to do to ensure that these important state-owned enterprises are better positioned to respond adequately to the needs of our people," he questioned.

The minister promised to partner with affected communities and build the necessary infrastructure.

Nyanda also emphasised that the policy initiative should not be seen as an attempt by government to control the roll-out of broadband.

He was referring to the draft broadband policy, put in place by the government and gazetted on 18 September, which aims to facilitate the provisioning of affordable access to broadband infrastructure to citizens, business and government.

The policy also aims to stimulate the usage of broadband services at national, provincial and municipal level, including in rural areas.

"The national government is in no way indicating that government is the most important in this.

"Government needs to act as an enabler for the private sector to make money and provide services," Nyanda said.

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