SONA lip service to broadband

February 15th, 2016, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

The President, Jacob Zuma, has again failed to make any meaningful statement in his 2016 State of the Nation address (SONA) about the roll out of broadband. In his 2015 address he said “The year 2015 will mark the beginning of the first phase of broadband rollout. Government will connect offices in eight district municipalities” and he named the areas. “Government has also decided to designate Telkom as the lead agency to assist with broadband roll out.” This last statement caused major upsets in the industry as government had not initiated an open and transparent process but instead made a unilateral announcement.

In his 2016 SONA the President said “Government will fast track the implementation of the first phase of broadband rollout to connect more than 5000 government facilities in eight district municipalities over a three year period.”

Did the speechwriters forget what they wrote last year or was it due to changes in ministers that we are still talking about the first phase? What is even more curious is that a few weeks before the SONA, Department of Communications and Postal Services (DTPS) officials failed to attend a meeting called by the Portfolio Committee on Communication – something which did not sit well with the chairman of the committee. It later came to light that Minister Siyabonga Cwele had instructed the DTPS officials not to attend as broadband was to be a major announcement in the SONA..

Seeing broadband in the light of other recent developments one can only wonder if government is serious about it. The Broadband Commission has been plagued by resignations of its chairman and other members because of the lack of response from government. Several meetings were planned with the minister where the committee was to have submitted its recommendations. These meetings did not happen.

Minister Cwele initiated with DTPS a project aimed at fast tracking broadband infrastructure, taking the endless delays in the approval process required by municipalities out of the approval process. Consultants were appointed and a report was submitted for discussion by the various stakeholders. In September 2015 when EngineerIT interviewed Minister Cwele at SATNAC 2015, the minister said that he expected the final report and recommendations to be published at the end of November 2015. This did not happen. According to unnamed sources at DTPS, this is now part of a new white paper to be published for comment before the end of the financial year.

Over the past year industry leaders have called for the depoliticising of broadband and to appoint one minister with a suitable technical background to take South Africa forward. To think that countries like Egypt and Kenya are leading the broadband pack is a matter of great concern.

When the DTPS was prevented from talking to the Portfolio Community for Communication because a major announcement would be made during the SONA, it raised the expectation that something dramatic was to be announced – perhaps something like reappointing Yunus Carrim to return to the communication fold. I guess it was just a dream!

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